Council to debate casino at special May 21 meeting

Toronto city council will hold a special casino debate on May 21.
Mayor Rob Ford told reporters Wednesday that he remains very optimistic that he can win a casino vote at an upcoming special council meeting. (CBC)

Toronto city council will hold a special casino debate on May 21.

A city manager's report on the casino project was on the agenda for the next week's regular council meeting but Mayor Rob Ford has requested the special meeting to debate the issue.

Last month, the mayor's executive committee voted to send the casino issue to council.

The city manager's report calls for restrictions to any casino built in Toronto, either at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre or at Exhibition Place. 

Those restrictions include a 50-50 split in revenues with the province with a minimum of $100 million going to the city each year.

It's not clear if the province is willing to agree to those conditions, which would deliver a much richer share of casino revenue for Toronto than other Ontario host cities receive.

With the revenue model unclear, many councillors — including some of Ford's supporters — appear unwilling to support the project.

Ford has denied that moving the casino debate to a special meeting is a bid to buy time and shore lagging support for the project. He said the move was made due to the full agenda and next week's regular council meeting.

When asked if he could win the casino vote, Ford said he was confident.

"Absolutely…I’m very optimistic," Ford told reporters on Wednesday.

The province, through the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation, wants to add a casino to downtown Toronto as part of a province-wide gambling expansion.

If Toronto council rejects a casino, the OLG may opt to locate one outside city limits. 

Coun. Peter Milczyn thinks the mayor faces an uphill battle in convincing a majority of councillors to support building a casino in the city.

"Unless the province or OLG comes forward with some incredible amount of money that might cause people to really sit up and think, I don’t think so," he told CBC News on Wednesday.

With a report from the CBC's Jamie Strashin