The push for a casino at Woodbine racetrack divides progressive voices

Toronto Mayor John Tory said Wednesday that he supports studying the possibility of turning Woodbine racetrack into a casino — an issue that's divided progressive voices in the city.

Casino expansion pits community activist Andray Domise against Coun. Mike Layton

Toronto's executive committee approves study on expanding gambling operations at Woodbine racetrack 3:08

Toronto Mayor John Tory said Wednesday that he supports studying the possibility of turning Woodbine racetrack into a casino — an issue that's divided progressive voices in the city.

His executive committee approved a request for a staff report on a proposed casino at Woodbine, which currently has slot machines but no table games.

The committee heard presentations on the idea for much of the morning and afternoon.

Toronto's executive committee is discussing whether or not to allow Woodbine racetrack to expand its gambling operations. (Michael Burns/The Canadian Press)
Some say the casino is needed for economic development in the area, while others are dead set against casinos. Council previously argued over the idea in 2013.

Tory, speaking with reporters while the executive committee took a break, said he's willing to go through that fight again because he thinks the casino could be an economic "catalyst" for the Rexdale area of Etobicoke.

"I believe it is a part of the city that desperately needs investment and job creation," Tory said.

"I am very willing and anxious to look at whether expanded gaming would serve as a catalyst for that."

Former city council candidate for Ward 2 Andray Domise told CBC Radio's Metro Morning many in the Rexdale community support the idea.

"Trying to find a job within the community is really hard," he said. "As some have said, it's easier to find a gun in the area than a job."

Domise said it is too hard to get downtown — where most people in the ward work. That depresses economic activity in Rexdale.

As evidence, he said the nearby mall, Woodbine Shopping Centre, is downtrodden with a high turnover rate for tenant businesses. He thinks a casino would help all this.

Coun. Rob Ford, who represents Ward 2, also wants to see a casino established at Woodbine.

"I'd like to see Woodbine become a full casino, just like the Exhibition does for 20 days every year," Ford told CBC News.

"They have the slots, they want tables. Let's give 'em tables, let's create jobs [and] stimulate the economy. That's what we have to do."

Betting against

The casino proposal is not without its detractors.

Mayor John Tory says he supports another study and public consultation about a potential casino at the Woodbine racetrack. (The Canadian Press)
"I want to make sure these are good jobs, not just jobs," said Mike Layton, city councillor for downtown Ward 19.

He likened gambling to smoking, saying people are "wising up" and quitting the vice.

Layton publicly called out the idea for a Woodbine casino on Twitter, telling Domise casinos cost communities more than they gain.

"The pathway to prosperity and good jobs isn't paved by promises of a golden mile. It's done with new ideas and investment. Not shortcuts," tweeted Layton at Domise.

Domise, who is a self-described progressive, said he has not seen Layton or any downtown councillors come with any new ideas for the Rexdale neighbourhood.

"The first thing we need is building better transit," said Layton on Metro Morning. He said that would help spur business in the area.

Layton said downtown councillors should have a say in Etobicoke development, just as Etobicoke councillors should have a say in downtown development. He stressed it's better to have a fulsome dialogue with many perspectives.