POLITICS

Massive casino complex proposal unveiled in Toronto to mixed reviews

03/06/2013 12:40 EST | Updated 05/06/2013 05:12 EDT
TORONTO - A proposed casino complex, complete with a shopping mall, a 1,200-room hotel and a permanent home for Cirque du Soleil, was unveiled Wednesday in Toronto.

MGM Resorts International and its partner Cadillac Fairview is proposing to build the complex on the grounds of Exhibition Place at a cost of up to $4 billion.

The proposal is one of several received by the city in the last few months in advance of an April council vote on the controversial issue.

Mayor Rob Ford supports the idea of having a casino built in the city, saying it would create jobs and boost revenue.

But many critics, including some city councillors, say allowing a casino in the city would give rise to criminal activity, gambling addictions and add to gridlock. Twenty-three councillors will have to approve the plan for it to pass.

At the unveiling of the most recent plan, the senior vice-president of public affairs at MGM Resorts touted economic benefits of the company's proposal. A model was presented at the unveiling, though journalists were not allowed to photograph it.

The massive three-million-square-foot complex would bring 10,000 new, unionized jobs with an average salary of $60,000 — plus 5,000 construction jobs during an estimated three years of development — and millions of dollars in city revenue, said Alan Feldman.

"All of the Sturm und Drang about what is going to happen when you put a casino in downtown is mostly emotion and fear based," he said.

Some city councillors and Toronto Mayor Rob Ford have seen the proposal, but those who oppose the casino project say they have been ignored by MGM and Fairview.

Councillor Mike Layton said he is concerned a casino would draw money from the local economy and generate thousands of additional car trips each hour on already heavily travelled routes.

"It's still going to create twice as many gambling addicts in the city of Toronto," said Layton, who added he was not allowed to attend to unveiling of the plan.

"What they want to do is put in banks of addictive slot machines that are going to draw money out of people's pockets."

Other features include a 10,000-spot underground parking lot, an enhancement to the Molson Amphitheatre that would create a Canadian Music Hall of Fame at Ontario Place and 10 restaurants overlooking Lake Ontario.

The Canadian National Exhibition would be moved closer to the water, Feldman said.

"We're looking for a way to take the variety of the wonderful assets that are on Exhibition Place and Ontario Place, and weave them together into a whole that can help to energize this space year-round," he said.