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Toronto casino: Ford pushes potential jobs, revenue at third public consultation

Darth Vader casino

RENE JOHNSTON/TORONTO STAR Dennis Hassell, dressed as Darth Vader, gets thrown out of the public consultation into the casino issue at the Etobicoke Olymmpium on Monday night for having a hand-held sign.

Toronto’s third session asking the public if they want a casino featured appearances Monday night by Mayor Rob Ford and a protester dressed as Darth Vader.

More than 200 people attended the three-hour event at the Etobicoke Olympium. It was the third of five such events over 10 days organized by the city manager’s office, ahead of a report to the mayor’s executive committee on the possibility of bringing a casino to Toronto.

“If we can create 10,000 or more good-paying union jobs and bring in revenue of $ 200 million. . . . I just don’t know how people can say no to that,” Ford told reporters, after touring the displays around the facility.

The signs featured responses to social and health concerns, as well as potential location options: Exhibition Place, downtown, the Port Lands and Woodbine.

But some opposing the casino or particular locations for it told Ford exactly why they want him to say no, approaching him one on one or speaking during an open mic session.

“Don’t you think a downtown casino will actually take away jobs, cannibalize jobs at Woodbine,” employee Theo Lagakos asked the mayor. He was one of many workers who expressed work concerns.

There’s more than enough to go around,” Ford responded.

That’s what Jane Holmes, vice-president corporate affairs at Woodbine Entertainment, is hoping for. She and dozens of others sported “Yes Woodbine Casino” buttons.

“There’s a lot of discussion about the downtown and we want to get the focus out that [the locations] aren’t mutually exclusive,” Holmes said.

She said Toronto could make Woodbine a full casino with tables and roulette, as well as building a downtown location. Letting a casino go somewhere north outside of the city would likely take business away from Woodbine, she said.

Monday’s meeting was also the first of the consultations attended by Ford and his brother Councillor Doug Ford, who represents an Etobicoke ward.

“I live here . . . besides, the first one was hijacked,” Mayor Ford said, explaining his first-time attendance and referring to some No-side councillors interrupting the first gathering at with an impromptu discussion in a different room.

“It’s good that people are going to come out. I’m going to listen to what they have to say.”

But unlike the No Casino Toronto group, which wants Toronto’s casino status to remain the status quo, independent protester and Etobicoke resident Dennis Hassell didn’t have a chance to speak to Ford. Hassell, who arrived dressed like Darth Vader, said he was asked to leave shortly after the event began.

“I wanted to show anybody that’s concerned about it that a little bit of visual metaphor is much stronger than giving people paper,” said Hassell, a 54-year-old script writer.

“It’s like the Death Star. It creates jobs, it creates money, but at what cost?”

thestar.com – News