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Woodbine casino a step closer to reality, but some still concerned
City council approved expanding gambling operations at Woodbine, but with conditions
By John Rieti
Aug. 8, 2017

Toronto Deputy Mayor Vincent Crisanti says he's "fully optimistic" the operators chosen to run a casino at Woodbine Racetrack will soon be building a facility that will benefit the entire area.

Ontario Lottery and Gaming (OLG) announced Tuesday it has selected Ontario Gaming GTA LP - a partnership between the Great Canadian Gaming Corporation and Brookfield Business Partners LP - to run its slot machines at Woodbine and two other gaming facilities for a 22-year period.

"This news sets the stage for the beginning of the transformation and revitalization of Etobicoke North," Crisanti told CBC Toronto.

"The key thing here is the opportunities of jobs that will be created through the development of Woodbine entertainment grounds," he said, noting the area has been struggling with unemployment.

Work on a casino expansion could begin by early 2018, OLG said in its statement, however Ontario Gaming will have to meet conditions set by the city.

City council voted 25-19 in favour of expanding gambling facilities at Woodbine in 2015.

Mayor awaits 'vision' for Woodbine

Mayor John Tory, who previously said he believes a casino could be a "catalyst" for the area, issued a statement about the deal, saying he's looking forward to seeing Ontario Gaming's "vision" for the site.

"City Council said clearly that there are a number of conditions, including the creation of more jobs and economic development opportunities, which must be met before it allows the expansion of gaming," his statement said.

However, Coun. Michael Layton, a critic of the plan, says the city should be looking for new ways to raise money rather than the "tired, old idea," of building a casino.

At Woodbine, where gamblers can play the slot machines as well as bet on the horses, the reaction among patrons to news of a full-fledged casino was mixed.

Hamdi Awawda said while he likes a bet once in a while, "bringing too much gambling to the city is not a good thing."

Awawda says he's worried too many people will wind up wasting their money.

Leone Christiani certainly agrees with that. "I come here with the hope to win, but I never win," he said.

"I keep coming back, I don't know why."

But Ed Flis, a regular visitor at Woodbine, says business is already doing well - "you can hardly find a parking spot" - and that he expects even more people to visit a full-fledged casino.

Carole Crockett, meanwhile, said she could see more restaurants popping up in the area as has been the case in other casino sites like Niagara. "I guess it would bring in a lot more businesses," she said.

Unionized workers to stay as part of deal

The announcement comes less than a week after the union that represents some 400 of Woodbine's workers reached a new deal with OLG. Those employees will keep their collective agreement under the new management, while non-unionized employees will be kept on for at least a year, OLG's statement said.

A spokesperson for the Public Service Alliance of Canada, which represents the workers, says the union is still reviewing the news.

Great Canadian already operates some 22 gaming facilities across the country, including four horse racetrack casinos.

"We look forward to this historic opportunity to service Canada's largest metropolitan region," the company's president and CEO Rod Baker said in a statement.

OLG will continue to get a cut of the money raised at the casino and the proceeds will be invested within the province. OLG estimates it provides some $2.3 billion every year.