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Toronto Council To Debate Casino Referendum 

By Susanna Kelley

The idea of a casino for Toronto is running into serious opposition at the city's municipal council, and the McGuinty government is landing square in the middle of the dispute.

The Liberals must decide whether to drop a legal requirement that a citywide referendum be held in any community deemed eligible for a new casino.  

But some members of Toronto city council are already moving quickly to block any such gaming site from being constructed in its midst.

Council will consider a motion at its next meeting that says no casino can be built without a new referendum.  Unless that is held, the motion says, the council is bound by a 1997 citywide vote that defeated the idea by 72%. 

Councillor Adam Vaughan has moved a motion for the April 9 meeting that says unless city residents reverse their decision with a new vote, the results of the last referendum must be respected.

"That vote and the polls are consistent," said the councillor for Trinity-Spadina Tuesday.  "People don't want a casino here."

As revealed by last week, a bulletin released by the Toronto law firm Blake, Cassels and Graydon says current regulations of the Alcohol and Gaming Act of 1999 required eligible municipal councils to hold a referendum before a casino could be built in their community.

Regulations under the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation Act, 1999 stated any municipality designated as eligible for a casino must hold a referendum at municipal election time before can built.  

That would make any new referendum two years away.

In order to change that rule, the Liberal government must change the regulations. The Finance Ministry says it is working on new regulations, but won't say yet whether it will drop the referendum requirement.   

Mr. Vaughan's motion, seconded by York Centre councillor Maria Augimeri, says casinos suck money from nearby restaurants and bars.  They also bring crime, some of it drug-related, as well as money laundering, suicide, prostitution and increased policing costs.

"I don't believe the people of Toronto want a casino," said a third councillor, Janet Davis of Beaches-East York.

"The economic and social impacts will not benefit the city," she added, calling casino gambling "involuntary taxation on the most vulnerable."

Mr. Vaughan says he doubts Mayor Rob Ford would be able to get more than a handful of votes to support construction of a casino. Mr. Ford is known to favour such a site for Toronto.

When asked in the Legislature Monday whether he plans to keep the referendum requirement, Finance Minister Dwight Duncan would only say that municipal councillors would have a say.

Premier Dalton McGuinty reportedly added Tuesday that municipalities can hold a referendum if they choose.

In fact, it is not the choice of the municipalities at this point.  It is the provincial government that would have to change the regulations to dispense with that qualification.   

The Liberals wants to build a new casino and expand into online gambling in order to help balance the Ontario budget by 2016-17. The government ran up a $16 billion deficit because it spent money during the 2008-09 recession to stimulate the economy and to maintain jobs and services.

However, the chief of the Rama reserve and other critics say a new casino in the Greater Toronto Area will take customers and revenue away from the Rama and Niagara Falls casinos. 

NDP Beaches-East York provincial member Michael Prue says the previous system of building casinos in border towns made sense, as they drew American customers and money to Ontario.  

However, a casino in Toronto would simply be taking money from the province's own economy, he said.

You can find Susanna here: @susannakelley

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