One of four municipalities in the Greater Toronto Area would become home to a new casino, under a plan to modernize Ontario's gambling operations and generate a lucrative source of revenue for the cash-strapped province.
The province's lottery corporation is proposing that a casino be built along Lake Ontario in either downtown Toronto or to the west in Mississauga. Markham and Richmond Hill have also been named as possible sites.
The announcement on Thursday could pit one GTA community against another. The mayors of Toronto, Mississauga and Markham have all expressed interest in a casino.
Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti said in an interview his priorities are the Pan and Parapan American Games and a new 20,000-seat arena for his town, but he said he is interested in looking at the casino if it does not "compromise community standards and expectations."
Richmond Hill Mayor Dave Barrow said he needs to find out whether residents support a venue for blackjack and slot machines before deciding.
"I have no idea what the community thinks," Mr. Barrow said in an interview. "I've not had anybody say, 'don't you dare,' or, 'let's make some money.'"
In the past, municipalities in Ontario were required to hold a referendum before they could move ahead with a new casino. But the regulation expired nine years ago and the provincial government quietly passed a new one this week, requiring municipalities to consult the public but no longer with a referendum.
Toronto city councillor Adam Vaughan, one of two local politicians who last month put anti-casino motions before council, criticized what he characterized as a general unwillingness by the province to consult on the issue. "You don't just draw some circles on a map and go off to Los Vegas and see if you can rope in some billionaires," he said.
The McGuinty government is keen to open casinos and slot machines in under-serviced markets. With the province facing a nearly $15-billion deficit, the government is under pressure to find new revenue sources.
Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. is calling for a total of five new gambling facilities in Ontario. In addition to the GTA, the other regions are Kenora, Belleville, Collingwood and North Bay.
Currently, there are 24 gambling facilities across Ontario. OLG contributed an estimated $1.8-billion to the province's coffers in fiscal 2012. The proposed new gambling venues would generate another $1.3-billion for the province by fiscal 2018.
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford said earlier this week that he favours city-owned Exhibition Place as a possible site for a casino, because of the extra money the city would gain as a landlord.
The list of potential bidders for a Toronto site is growing and includes major U.S. firms such as MGM and Caesars Entertainment as well as local business titans Gerry Schwartz and Larry Tanenbaum.
OLG chairman Paul Godfrey said recently he favours a site in the downtown core, noting that if it goes elsewhere, plans for a large resort and entertainment complex will be scaled down. "We would have to be satisfied with something less," he told The Globe and Mail's editorial board.
Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion said last month that she would need more details before endorsing a casino, but she acknowledged the beneficial economic spinoffs it would bring.
Opposition members at Queen's Park are pushing for referendums. Progressive Conservative MPP Monte McNaughton has tabled a private member's bill to reinstate referendums for new casinos. The bill passed second reading in the legislature earlier this month with the help of the New Democrats.
"I want to ensure that's its enshrined in law so that local voices are heard when it comes to casinos," Mr. McNaughton said in an interview on Thursday.