Earlier this week, I attended a luncheon inside the historic First Canadian Place. It was sponsored by the Ontario Provincial District Council and Carpenters & Allied in the heart of the financial district.
The event brought die-hard activists in jeans and Holt Renfrew-wearing business executives to have them endorse the idea of a casino and resort destination in Toronto's Exhibition Place. The speakers were as impressive as the audience including Bill Hornbuckle, President and Chief of Marketing Officer of MGM Resorts International and Wayne Barwise who is the Executive Vice-President of Development of Cadillac Fairview.
The Toronto Board of Trade was host and the exclusive Hill+Knowlton Strategies did much of the publicity.
The speeches carried with them charm and all the possible benefits associated to a super big casino. Hornbuckle was impressive and smooth to a fault. He explained how a mega casino could be a "new economic engine that will generate 10,000 permanent jobs, millions in revenue and one million new tourists for Toronto."
In recognition to the activists in the room, he even tried to appease them by explaining how the plan would include enhancing "surrounding green space, improve traffic flow and pay respect to heritage and buildings on site and in the area." He continued, how they would aim to "enhance surrounding green space, improve, traffic flow and pay respect to heritage and buildings on site and in the area."
To the art lovers, their plan would also try to pay homage to Canadian artists by paying tribute to them and also giving them a large venue to play in. They even mentioned Cirque du Soleil as one of the many acts who could find permanent home at the new Exhibition Place.
Would the thousands of jobs that would be created all be dead end jobs?
It was explained how the employment opportunities would be diverse with an average salary of about $60,000. Listening to them, one cannot but wonder why most Torontonians still have misgivings about the controversial idea. After all, it seems to be so tempting, so revealing of what Toronto could become -- "like Las Vegas." I stood up and asked one of the few questions that the audience members were allowed to ask to the head of MGM International.
I asked what the social cost of a casino has been in Las Vegas and how did MGM deal with it? I asked to be given specific figures and facts.
That is when the whole staged show lost its control. The President and Chief of Marketing Officer of MGM Resorts International became speechless. He called on one of his associates to answer it for him.
Since the associate was caught off guard, he mumbled his way and said all the social costs that are associated with casinos already exist in society. He was vague and confused with his answer. This showed how much the team misunderstood all the misgivings people have when it comes to a casino in Toronto.
We have eloquently been told the benefits but how about the negative consequences?
The head of MGM International failure to answer when asked such a simple yet important question is the reason why most Torontonians still have misgivings. We need to know about crime rates, suicide and lives destroyed as a direct result of such a casino in Las Vegas and other major cities before we can endorse a new casino in Toronto.
Unless these are answered, most would choose the traditional role of government, which is to try to prevent its citizens from harm. I also know that most Torontonians would not want to make Toronto more like Las Vegas. I have experienced Las Vegas and it would be a shame if Toronto became anywhere close to the American city.
In the meantime -- like most Toronto citizens -- I continue to have misgiving about casinos.