Community Soapbox: Casino in Kingston

Casino in Kingston

The Process

Recently there has been a lot of discussion around a possible gaming facility and a referendum in Kingston. I want to take this opportunity to speak directly to residents about my views and our collective challenges and opportunities.

I want to first apologize for my recent comments on social media around the issue of the referendum and to the councillors who are bringing this motion forward. It was never my intention to offend anyone but rather to flag our competing priorities as a council. Knowing what I know now I would have handled things differently.

In October council approved a motion to move forward in the Ontario Lottery and Gaming (OLG) Corporation’s process to explore the possibility of a gaming facility in Kingston. Around the same time other communities like the Towns of Gananoque and Leeds and Thousand Islands also expressed interest. Expressing interest does not mean a casino is a foregone conclusion in any of our communities. It means we’re interested in exploring what the benefits and impacts are. Above all else it means we’re interested in keeping the dialogue open and continuing to communicate with our residents as we move through the process.

As it stands now the next stage is whether or not the OLG presents a proposal to Kingston for a gaming facility. If we are selected as a possible site, then we will begin the discussion with the OLG and our residents about the possible location.

Our Decision

The OLG process has been a complicated one – where communities appear to be set up to compete against one another to host these facilities. Kingston is not alone in this discussion. Communities across Ontario are having similar conversations; Toronto, Collingwood, Barrie to name a few.

What concerns me is the tone our discussion is taking. In December the Towns of Gananoque and Leeds and Thousand Islands hired a Toronto based lobby firm to advocate keeping the casino in their municipalities. The consultant’s strategic approach, as outlined in their report brought to Gananoque Council, included “to…facilitate grassroots opposition to a Kingston casino and prevent a casino from being built in Kingston.”

I understand and respect Gananoque and Leeds for their passion in having the casino remain where it is, because in large part they see the economic benefits in their communities. But rather than focusing their efforts on connecting with decision makers like the OLG and provincial government, their consultants have built a strategy around lobbying locally.

The consultants and the Towns of Gananoque and Leeds are operating under the assumption a facility is a foregone conclusion for Kingston – when it is not. All we, like they, have said is that we’re interested in moving forward in the OLG process.

At the end of the day Gananoque and Leeds have to do what they feel is in the best interest of their residents and if hiring a Toronto based lobby firm is what they need to do then I have to respect that despite my feelings on the approach. As Mayor of Kingston I have the same obligation to advocate for our community and our interests in this process and this discussion will be a Kingston based one.

Community Engagement

From the start of this process council has heard from residents on both sides. We’ve heard from people who have feelings for and against and we’ve heard from people willing to continue the discussion to see where it takes us.

It’s interesting that the question of a referendum is now in play after we have had significant input from our residents. The city held a public meeting – an open forum for residents to come and voice their opinions – it was packed with people from across the spectrum on this issue. The city conducted our own surveys, both over the phone and online, which showed the city almost evenly split on the issue.

Recognizing the importance of this issue, the city asked the President of the OLG to come and present to council. This is where councillors asked the tough questions on economics, social and health impacts. We have also had formal presentations to council from residents, community groups and associations – speaking for and against a gaming facility in Kingston. Additionally city staff have also done their due-diligence in preparing several reports for council on a broad spectrum of issues from the process, to what the potential environmental, social health and economic impacts could be.

Tough Choices

As Mayor, I have to have a holistic view in decision making, taking into account how this decision impacts our priorities. You elected me to see the bigger picture and to chart the course for our community. I am one of 13 voices on council.

Referendums can be effective tools, but are residents and councillors prepared to devote money to this over another priority? The more appropriate time for referendums is typically around elections where municipal councils aren’t incurring the extra costs.

Do we want to try and stay at 2.5%? How are we going to prioritize some of our big ticket infrastructure priorities like the John Counter expansion, the Airport expansion, a new water and sewer plant and let’s not forget the third crossing? Is council prepared to ask staff to find the funds to hold this referendum over some of our other priorities, like investing in discretionary benefits and affordable housing or contributing to our cultural and transportation master plans?

I am not discounting public input and opinion on this important issue but as a council we are responsible for making balanced decisions for residents across our city now and into the future. We owe it to our constituents to make the best use of their tax dollars. As one of 444 municipalities in Ontario we’re not immune to what’s happening at the federal and provincial levels of government. Both governments are focused on fiscal restraint and reining in their deficits. As a result, municipalities like Kingston are being forced to do more with less.

The province has told us there are limited dollars to go around so it’s up to us as a municipality to do our due-diligence and explore options of generating new revenue and investment in our community and a gaming facility is part of that conversation.

Premier Wynne, in her recent Throne Speech committed to open dialogue with communities where gaming facilities, quarries, or green energy projects were possibilities. I look forward to where that conversation goes.

As Chair, I am always willing to talk with and advise councillors wanting to bring motions to council and I certainly appreciate the intent of the motion councillors Hutchison and Neill are bringing forward to Tuesday’s meeting and I look forward to discussing it with them.

Procedurally the motion still needs to be discussed with myself, the clerk and our city solicitor. I look forward to the continued dialogue on this important issue with our community and hope we can come together in this conversation.
__________________

Submitted to Kingstonist’s Community Soapbox by Mayor Mark Gerretsen.

Thanks to julep67 for the picture associated with this post.

Comments

  1. Marvin Marvellous says

    I get the feeling that there is a huge amount of back room dealing going on, pressuring Kingston to apply for a casino. I see no reason for this and wonder what the motivation of the OLG really is. Gan has a casino. It's running fine and making money, and making no economic impression at all on that community, as far as I can see. If the streets of Gan were suddenly paved with gold (or repaired even), or if there were twelve new hotels built around the casino, I would say there was an attractive reason to steal the casino from them and put it in Kingston. As it is, Gananoque looks the same as it has over the past ten years, same as any other town in this area. Why is the OLG so keen to pit Kingston against Gan in a competition that we can only win by accepting less of the revenue? The only winner will be the OLG and their partners, not the city of Kingston.

  2. Alec says

    Honestly Mark, how many times do you have to see and hear “NO” from Kingstonians before you start looking like you’re paying attention? Ignoring what citizens want is a quick way of being voted out, and having people think you’re yet another cronyist, back room, scumbag politician that only cares about his career. Just saying. So, to save hundreds of thousands of $$ on a stupid referendum, NO f******* Casino already!!!

  3. That Guy says

    Kingstonist has set a new low by allowing the mayor another bully-pulpit.
    He’s on Facebook, he’s on Twitter, he’s on cable, he’s sullied the Pigly-Whigly, and now Kingstonist whores itself too?
    You’ve become part of the problem – where’s your critical analysis at least?
    Shameful – I’ll await your convoluted stance on how you are right about this, except you aren’t.

    • says

      Hilarious. Please don't assume that we support the views expressed in each and every Community Soapbox submission that you see on our site. Our Community Soapbox is specifically designed to attract one-off contributions that stimulate important conversations about key issues in Kingston. Anyone can submit something to it. Over the years, this ongoing series has allowed us present the views of Prison Farm Supporters, the Green Party, KFL&A Health Unit and most recently, the Mayor.

      Like Mayor Gerretsen's views, the casino, the idea of a referendum, or not, this is an important and ongoing discussion that we intend to cover from as many angles as possible. And that makes us a part of the problem? Perhaps you missed the many casino-related posts on our site?

      • says

        Hilarious, a pompous reply that ignores what I wrote.

        I'll say it again – you published this windbag who has plenty of other ways to get his message out.

        And you published this windbag without any critical approach to what he has said.

        You are presenting views – views that have no examination, are printed verbatim, and are basically a political ad.

        • says

          I don’t think I’ve ignored your concerns. I’ve outlined exactly what our Community Soapbox is all about. People send us opinion-based submissions, we post them verbatim. You do not seem to be hoisting in the concept.

          We let the comment section sort out the critical analysis and dialogue piece you’re referring to. Seeing how you’re keen on that, and rather that continuing down this road of being hypercritical towards us for publishing the Mayor’s stance, why not offer up your own thoughts and help enable some real discourse. I for one would love to hear your thoughts about this.

        • BobM says

          "That Guy":
          If you are truly concerned about the Mayor's post going without critique, perhaps you could step up, examine the proposal and the process presented here, and provide us with some valid commentary. Petulant name-calling, no matter how repetitive, isn't the same as informed opinion.

          You obviously dislike the Mayor, but do you have any substantive thoughts on the proposal itself?

  4. KTOWN says

    Liberal government in ON , Liberal Mayor in Kingston, Liberal MPP for the city its not hard to follow the trail as to why this is getting shoved down our necks here in Kingston. Politics.
    The present Casino in Gan is in a PC riding can't have that , Kingston had the opportunity last time around and said no and Gan said Yes. Lets leave the Jobs and the present Casino where it is.

  5. James says

    Kingston has lots going on, what does Gan have? I think most people in Kingston would rather share the pie, then have it all. However maybe I do not know my fellow Canadians anymore, they seem to be out for themselves, no matter what the cost, as long as they are not losing. Queens could easily kick in a few millions (of those tax dollars they get, or do not pay to the City of Kingston) to offset any revenue lost from having a casino. They make lots from Intellectual Property they have developed (and Canadians funded, you and me, my Father Mother and Sister everyone of us). Wake up, start saving, this economic model that is all around us is not sustainable, with a Casino or not. Our mayor has common sense, being of the younger crowd and not a rich lawyer with a silver spoon stuck up his … Mark find a simple cheap way for us to interact, like a web site we can vote at regarding issues being discussed at a city meeting (one vote per question, per I.P. address). When will we have a say ? Soon I hope..

  6. AnotherOpinion says

    Frankly, I see a casino in Kingston as a way to increase taxes on the residents. If you think about it, anyone who loses money at the casino is paying this money to the province and the municipality. This money doesn't just appear from tourists, although some of it might be from visitors, for the most part it's made off the residents who go to the casino and spend their money. So don't think of this as a way to keep our taxes down, it's actually another way to tax those who spend their money on gambling. It's like the lottery that way. They're just fooling the taxpayers.

    So no, I don't want a casino in Kingston. Leave it in Gan. Why spend the money to mothball one casino that's already up and running and build another casino in a neighbouring town? It makes no sense. Except that Kingston has a larger population so that they can make more off the residents and the students.

  7. TedSmitts says

    As a Christian and a grandmother, I fear that a casino (a temple of gambling + sin) could lead to the attraction of the demon Celine. Please, Mr. Mayor, reconsider while there is still time. We do not need this demon woman roaming the streets of Kingston and hooting in her way, scaring children.

    Let her go on, we do not need more social evil here.

  8. says

    The mayor makes the point that citizens will have to face the budgetary consequences if they demand a referendum. But citizenry at large didn't create this issue.

    Back in October, the mayor, along with six other councillors, voted to explore the casino proposal. The mayor used the justification that council's job is to make sure that the city prospers economically and that matters of morality should be left to higher levels of government (rather than the citizenry!). This is an issue because the mayor decided to make it an issue. He knowingly stepped into a controversial debate and is trying to blame Kingstonians for wanting to have some say regarding the morality and social concerns in our own community.

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