Woodbine’s ‘city-within-a-city’ casino expansion expected to generate 2,500 jobs
Partnership between B.C.-based Great Canadian Gaming Corp. and Toronto-based Brookfield Business Partners is tight-lipped on plans for Woodbine, Great Blue Heron, Ajax gaming sites.
By DAVID RIDER
Aug. 8, 2017
A Canadian partnership has won hotly contested rights to expand and operate GTA casinos, including one coming to Woodbine race track.
B.C.-based Great Canadian Gaming Corp. and Toronto-based Brookfield Business Partners won the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. bidding process, they announced Tuesday.
Woodbine, which now hosts slot machines, is expected to become a full-fledged casino and entertainment/hotel complex. The 22-year deal also includes rights to redevelop and operate: Great Blue Heron charity casino on Scugog Island near Port Perry; Ajax Downs race track, which has slot machines.
The new partnership won’t make the winning plan public just yet, said Chuck Keeling of Great Canadian Gaming.
“We are eager and excited,” he said, but, “in a proposal this large and complex, there a lot of vested stakeholders,” and it is important to brief them on plans and get feedback before making the details public.
“We do have a vision for the GTA marketplace, and, at this place, we don’t want to speak to any of the details, which include preferential locations,” for casino sites, said Keeling, promising details “soon.”
Any gaming re-locations by the partnership would require a business case and support from the new host community, OLG and Ontario's finance minister.
Race track operator Woodbine Entertainment Group already has plans to build “a city within a city” on its sprawling site, guided by international architecture and planning firm SWA Group.
WEG said, in a statement, it looks forward to working with the new “key partners” while proceeding with its vision for 684 privately owned acres, including “expanded entertainment and cultural offerings, food and dining, hotel, shopping, employment, post-secondary education, recreation, health, wellness, and urban residential living (facilities).”
Ward 1 Councillor Vince Crisanti predicted the new complex will inject needed jobs into the northwest corner of Toronto that has seen past proposals go nowhere.
“This sets the stage for a transformation and revitalization; Etobicoke north is going to come to life because of it,” Crisanti said. “There will be thousands of job opportunities,” that should spark new housing and transit opportunities.
The Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation, which hosts Great Blue Heron, has expressed “high hopes” for expansion of the small, but successful casino.
In an interview Tuesday, Chief Kelly LaRocca said she had a small role in the selection process as a “subject-matter expert” on the bids’ Indigenous components and “how they thought to include and uplift the aboriginal community in their plans.”
She congratulated the winning companies and expects to meet with them soon to go over their Great Blue Heron proposals.
“I’m very hopeful that they are looking to reinvigorate employment opportunities for aboriginal peoples in the local and surrounding communities,” LaRocca said. “I know that they are probably looking at branding and how they can give a bit of a facelift to the Great Blue Heron and the other casinos.”
As for Ajax Downs, the town has earned $6.4 million a year in OLG hosting fees and is making the case that it should host the new casino, boosting those fees to as much as $12.3 million. In a statement, the town said it looks forward to working with the new operator “to ensure Ajax continues to be a popular destination for gaming, horse racing and entertainment.”
Pickering Mayor Dave Ryan, however, said in an interview he wants to convince the partners his city should host the casino.
“We’re not only at the table, we’re on the table,” Ryan said. “We have twice the land opportunity and could host a much larger casino, entertainment and tourism complex,” than Ajax.
OLG has said the deal will earn the partnership at least $72 million a year, plus up to 70 per cent of gambling revenue, but only after OLG has earned a pre-determined annual cut.
Finance Minister Charles Sousa, speaking to reporters at Massey Hall, hailed the “exciting news.”
“It was an arms-length process and it’s been some time in the making. I’m extremely excited about it. I’m very pleased by the outcome,” said Sousa, predicting construction of “a destination venue in the Toronto area.
“There’s a huge investment coming into the community, a lot more jobs being created,” he said. “The proponent will now come out with the plans in association with Woodbine . . . , but it’s going to be a substantive investment with a great rollout and many opportunities for the region.”
Not everyone is cheering. Theo Lagakos, president of PSAC Local 533 representing 400 workers at Woodbine slots, said his members have lost the rights of provincial civil servants and are guaranteed only one year of employment with the partnership taking over the operation.
“I think this is a bad deal for the people of Ontario,” he said, arguingthere was little or no public debate on the privatization and “the private company is going to keep a large percentage of the profits that should be going back to the Ontario government.”