World-class casino slated for Woodbine

TORONTO - Move over Niagara Falls. You, too, Casino Rama.


Toronto gamblers will be betting at a world-class casino at Woodbine Racetrack in north Etobicoke.

As reported by the Toronto Sun, the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) announced Tuesday the winner of a competitive bidding process to take over the running of OLG Slots at Woodbine Racetrack.

The winning bidder, Ontario Gaming GTA, a partnership of Great Canadian Gaming Corporation and Brookfield Business Parners, will also operate OLG Slots at Ajax Downs and Great Blue Heron Casino.

The much-anticipated announcement is expected to finally clear the way for a casino in Toronto.

Trading on the Toronto Stock Exchange of Great Canadian Gaming Corp. had been suspended in anticipation of the news.

“The plan is for Great Canadian Gaming to take over the Woodbine property and the plan is for them to team with (Brookfield Developments) to develop a world-class casino project there with slots and all the usual gaming tables to go with hotel and entertainment,” said a source close to the talks.

Mayor John Tory said Monday night that a deal is actually not new news since “city council approved this more than a year ago subject to many conditions the most important of which is that the casino must be accompanied by significant additional job creating development” which would mean “hotels, entertainment, commercial etc.”

What is new is who will be managing it.

The province, he said, decides on the winning bid but the city ultimately decided on Woodbine as the location.

“We had to say first we would accept a casino at Woodbine and based on gambling being there already (slots, horses) ... I was prepared to say yes at Woodbine only. I did not and do not support a downtown casino as I do not think it is a suitable thing for the downtown of a great global city,” TOry said.

Malaysia’s Genting and America’s Caesars casino development companies were said to be bidding on the multibillion-dollar deal. “Word is (Genting’s) bid was actually higher than that of British Columbia’s Great Canadian Gaming,” said a source.

But people close to the deal say Premier Kathleen Wynne and her Liberal government feel more comfortable with a made-in-Canada transaction.

They already have worked out privatization deals in the past with Great Canadian Gaming, which now owns and operates a casino in the Thousand Islands just off Hwy. 401 in Gananoque and a slot machine entertainment centre in the Kawarthas.

“This is a perfect fit,” said a source.

The deal would could also see both the Great Blue Heron Casino near Port Perry and another operation in Ajax be expanded.

But the main focus of this, of course, is for the massive development plans at Woodbine. This is the game changer.

“It’s long overdo,” said Doug Ford, a former city councillor for the area. “I will have to look at the fine print when it’s put out but on the surface it looks like a very good deal for everybody.”

For the Wynne government, which is looking to be re-elected next year, it’s certainly a high-stakes political gamble — but one that will provide construction jobs and badly needed revenue for the province.

For many years, Toronto tourists who wanted to play blackjack, poker, roulette or craps had to go down the QEW to Niagara or up Hwy. 400 — north of Orillia — to Casino Rama.

With this announcement, they’ll have to go no farther than Hwy. 427 and Rexdale Rd. in just a couple of years.

The OLG said Tuesday that it expects that the winning partnership will take over day-to-day operations in early 2018

Unionized staff will transfer to the new service provider with no change in their contract, a release says.

Non-unionized staff are guaranteed a job for 12 months.

- With files from Antonella Artuso

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