Collingwood’s casino roulette

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I want you to read the following motion carefully. Take your time. It was passed by the former council in March, 2013 in response to the Ontario Lottery & Gaming Corporation (OLG) coming forward with a proposal to locate a gambling (“gaming”) facility in Collingwood:

WHEREAS a properly developed Integrated Destination Resort which includes but is not limited to a world class accommodation hotel, executive meeting and convention facilities, a large seating capacity theatre, restaurants, spa and boutique casino could benefit the economic growth of the community;
AND WHEREAS Council of the Town of Collingwood may be interested in becoming a host municipality for a gaming facility conditionally upon thorough review and discussion with appropriate parties;
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT Council of the Town of Collingwood hereby directs staff to advise the OLG that Collingwood does not support a standalone 300 slot machine gaming facility in the C7 Region;
AND FURTHER THAT Council hereby agrees to pursue negotiations with:
1) Private sector operators on acceptable Integrated Destination Resort opportunities and locations; and
2) The OLG to draft an acceptable revenue sharing agreement, that could be considered by Council and potential private sector operator(s);
AND FURTHER THAT Council direct staff to prepare a report on how best to engage the public prior to any final decision to host a gaming facility in our municipality.

The debateNow tell me: what does it say? Does it say the town will consider a serious, large-scale proposal only when and if one is presented? Yes. Does it commit the town to anything? No. Glad you understand that, because The Block sure didn’t. Maybe because to get what it says you need to actually READ it.

And that motion was passed FOUR years ago. The Block have had more than two years to do something about it. They’ve let the OLG make plans and prepare RFPs all this time without saying a word and now they act surprised. The only ones not surprised by this inaction are, of course, you, dear reader.

Last term, we held several public meetings, ran surveys and the result was that the public was ambivalent. Many were okay with a casino, but iffy about a slot barn – one of those dreary, windowless facilities full of noise and flashing lights, where oxygen is pumped in to keep the septuagenarians awake while they slump on their stools pumping quarters into slot machines hours and hours of every day. But there was no large majority either way. Some folks loved it, some hated it, most were lukewarm.

Council back then wisely rejected the OLG’s proposal for a slot barn. It wasn’t in keeping with the community.

But after council stated our objections to such a facility, developers came forward and said, “what if…” What if someone came made a proposal for something like a Caesar’s: a big,$500 million, 1,000-room destination hotel, with conference and entertainment centres, multiple stages and auditoriums, a spa, boutique restaurants, creating hundreds of local jobs and contributing millions to the local economy? Would you consider that, they asked.

And we said – as you can read in the motion – show us your hand. In other words: sure, we’ll consider it once you propose it. Consider, not approve. Until then, we’re not interested in a slot barn. And when someone comes forward, we said, the town wants a say in how much money the town gets. But until then, don’t darken the door.

And since then NO ONE has come forward. But the possibility remains that someone might want to build a half-a-billion dollar resort here. So we left the door open for negotiations. And you can read all of this in the staff report attached to the agenda, which notes,

The bidders that will be responding to the RFP will be provided with information in the OLG data room that includes Collingwood’s resolution, indicating that Collingwood IS interested in pursuing an “integrated destination resort” style casino operation – however subject to successful negotiations pertaining to the “type/style” of gaming operation/facility and having an appropriate cost sharing agreement.

Even staff get it: we are interested in negotiating a big proposal. We stated in in the motion. But we didn’t approve anything more serious than saying we’re open to talks. Show us your hand.

This term The Block read the words “casino” in the agenda and went Chicken-Little ballistic. The sky was falling! They were, after all, supported by a tiny cohort of anti-change, anti-gambling people who don’t even like it when you use the word gaming in a sentence at the council table. So to keep the support of their rapidly dwindling base, The Block had to react with suitably righteous, sputtering outrage.

There’s nothing more annoying than a politician who charges ahead, fuelled by fervent ideology while leaving their brains at the door. If only they took the time to actually read the motion and the report before they ranted about it…

The local media are no better. The Connection had this erroneous statement (obviously choosing The Block’s “we don’t read” approach to news coverage)*:

The previous council said Collingwood would be a willing host for a casino resort. This council has yet to offer an opinion.

You can see by the actual motion that the first part is claptrap. We said we would consider such a proposition if a proposal was submitted. Yes, it’s true this council has not offered a collective opinion: all you need to do to find out what The Block thinks is to ask the interim CAO. Or the deputy mayor after he’s been told what to think. But I digress.

Now keep this in mind: the town doesn’t decide what community gets a casino. The OLG does. The town doesn’t decide what goes inside one. The OLG does. The town doesn’t decide on which site it gets built. The OLG does. The town doesn’t decide who builds it. The OLG does. The town doesn’t decide who runs it. The OLG does. The town doesn’t decide how much money it receives. The OLG does. All the town can do is hold public meetings (which we did) and convey the public’s view back to the OLG (which we did last term).

But that’s complicated. It flustered our Blockheads. So they sent staff scurrying back to the OLG to ask questions that were either already answered or should have been researched BEFORE the meeting by going online and reading the OLG’s rules and goals on its website. Oh wait, that would mean more reading… gods forbid they should have to do their job and actually figure things out for themselves.

And keep this in mind, too: unlike everything else The Block has done this term, a destination resort WON’T be paid for by taxpayers. In fact, if built it will provide revenue through the gaming side (perhaps $1-$2 million a year), property taxes, building permits, development charges – it will also buy from local services, and employ hundreds of local people. So regardless of whether they like casinos or not, our elected representatives should weigh the long-term benefits to the greater community of a large-scale development against their objections.

Whether the benefits outweigh the detriments is entirely separate and needs to be discussed if and when a proposal is presented. And it must be cone in public – another thing The Block hates to do.

The sensible thing to do would be to go back to the OLG and say, show us your hand. We’ve already told you the conditions, we’ve already gone through the process, so if you have something to offer, put it on the table. We’re not spending another dime of the taxpayers’ money until you show us something.

Which of course they won’t do because it means thinking. And thinking hard. Which makes their heads hurt. So they went all Chicken Little and made staff do their work.The Block want to confirm that Collingwood can say no any time, without penalty. But Collingwood hasn’t said yes. It already said no to what the OLG proposed. We only said we’ll consider other options. I know, hard thinking was required.

But once the town says yes to a proposal – which it hasn’t – it won’t be able to back out. The Block seem confused by that, probably because they’re not used to being held accountable to their promises.

Meanwhile, Wasaga Beach is courting the OLG to get the casino there (even more aggressively than they are courting the MoH for the redeveloped hospital).

Collingwood deserves better.
~~~~~
PS. Here’s what I wrote about gambling and casinos back in late 2012. I wrote other pieces around then too. Plus I wrote this about the development of a destination resort in 2013. I’m not a gambler, so I have no attraction to any gaming facility or activity. But I try to keep an open mind. At the time, I researched considerably the impact of gambling and casinos. As an elected representative, I felt it my responsibility to explore all avenues for the community and to support what seems best for the community at large, not like the Block: simply sit on my ideological backside and vote as I’m told.

* There’s nothing in the Empty-prize Bulletin about it, so I assume it was too much like work to cover it in that paper.

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