The city’s executive committee voted unanimously to begin public consultations on a casino in Toronto, Monday.

The committee, chaired by Mayor Rob Ford, heard from a list of 52 people who had signed up to speak to the committee on the building a possible casino and entertainment centre in the city. Each speaker was limited to three minutes, down from five minutes.

“There are a large number of studies that have shown that people who are within half an hour of a casino are at a much greater chance of developing a gambling problem,” Dr. Nigel Turner of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) told the committee on Monday.

Gambling addiction, the connection between crime and casinos, as well as an uncertainty of just how much money a casino would generate for the city were hot button issues during the meeting.

After the public had their say, councillors began to bring motions to the table.

Coun. Cesar Palacio made a motion that a consultation be done by CAMH on the effects of gambling addiction. His motion passed.

Coun. David Shiner then moved a motion that city manager’s final report include recommended casino locations, as well as size, type and the amount that it would generate in revenue. Coun. Mammoliti then chimed in, ensuring that the motion would not move the decision of a casino to council but rather stay with the executive committee. Coun. Shiner’s motion passed.

The mayor, who is in favour of a casino, believes it would generate millions of dollars and thousands of jobs for the city. Critics, including Coun. Adam Vaughan and Maureen Lynett of No Casino Toronto, would like to see a referendum held on the issue. Seventy-four per cent of Torontonians voted against a proposed East York casino in a 1997 referendum.

This time around, developers have proposed building a complex at Exhibition Place, in the Port Lands, and at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. A proposed Toronto casino is part of the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp.’s (OLG) plan to revamp the province’s gaming industry.

OLG president and CEO Rod Phillips told the committee the city will “absolutely” receive a hosting fee, but the public won’t know the figure right away.

Phillips also said there are various partnership models the OLG has with casino communities including fixed-fee plans and revenue sharing. It’s not yet known which model would be used if Toronto goes ahead with a casino or exactly what percentage of profits the city would get.

Addressing concerns of a casino complex hurting downtown restaurants, theatres and hotels, Phillips said it wouldn’t be wise to undermine existing attractions and the agency would work to integrate the new facility into the existing neighbourhood. Many casinos have rewards programs and Phillips said one integration option could include providing players with complimentary meals at downtown eateries.

The OLG plan includes a proposed casino in the downtown area, or in another area covering the Woodbine race track and parts of Mississauga and Brampton.

Woodbine Entertainment president Nick Eaves is pushing for a casino at his facility, which is facing a grim future with the province ending its slots at racetracks program in March. He told the committee his complex has a history of running a responsible gaming facility.

“Woodbine has got it right,” he said.

The complex currently employs 7,500 people and has a history of hosting large events, such as the Queen’s Plate, without creating traffic congestion. The 272-hectare-site has approximately 7,000 parking spots.

Representatives from the Ex and the Port Lands have spoken out against the idea of a casino in their areas.

Brian Ashton, president of the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE), reaffirmed his opposition to a casino on the Ex grounds in a letter sent to the executive committee last week.

“An event, the scope and size of the CNE, could not be staged on the radically reduced footprint that would remain after the construction of a large casino complex at Exhibition Place,” he said.

And Larry Webb of the Corktown Residents and Business Association said his group is opposed to using prime waterfront land for a casino.

“… we wish to go on record now that we oppose such uses in the Port Lands and Downtown, where we live. Patrons of a casino really do not care about its environs — the want to get there and away again as quickly as they can and spend their time there indoors mostly,” he said in a letter.

“To take up waterfront or water-connected land, which has taken decades to bring to a point of possible real development and maintaining access to the waterfront for all Torontonians and its visitors, would be a travesty and a total disservice to all in Toronto.”

According to a city report, a casino and entertainment complex in the downtown area would create a much-needed cash flow and create thousands of jobs.

“Based on an estimate that 36.5 percent of the total gaming and non-gaming revenue generated by this type of development through ongoing operations is net new spending in Toronto … [a downtown casino] would generate net annual GDP of about $640 million and result in between 5,850 and 7,300 net new jobs,” the city report stated.

The OLG has also been proposing casinos in other markets including North Bay, Kenora, Belleville and Collingwood.

On Monday, Collingwood town council voted against the proposal of a casino.