The decision on a downtown Toronto casino is expected to be settled at a city council meeting on May 21. But the OLG selected the downtown region as one viable location for a casino, and the northwestern regions of the GTA as a second viable location. The Woodbine racetrack, established in Etobicoke nearby Pearson International Airport, is quietly vying for the rights to what Torontonians identify as the ‘second casino zone.’
Woodbine was one of the locations proposed for a privatized casino when the OLG announced its gaming modernization strategy in March, 2012. The racetrack fought for an expansion of its current slot arrangement to install 1,500 slot machines, and up to 150 casino table games such as blackjack, poker, and roulette. The Woodbine Entertainment Group, which owns the racetrack, believes plenty of room is available to build a luxury hotel, convention centre, and space for retail shops if city council approves a fully integrated casino on the racetrack grounds.
Woodbine’s concerns were quietly drowned out in the face of significant opposition to the downtown Toronto casino. WEG VP Jane Holmes argues that the downtown location is a separate issue from Woodbine or any other site for the second casino.
“That’s our biggest concern. There are two very separate and distinct issues involving two separate zones.”
The racetrack is struggling to maintain its operations after the OLG cancelled the slot at racetrack revenue sharing agreement with Woodbine and other Ontario racetracks. The agreement saw Woodbine collect 20 percent of the slot revenue, which was reinvested into their horseracing operations. Nick Eaves, President of the WEG, says due to the program cancellation, Woodbine was forced to lay off over 100 employees, and forecasts more layoffs in the future.
The WEG wants the rights to a casino to support the horseracing side of its ventures, and protect good paying jobs. Eaves says Woodbine’s long standing reputation in the community should swing councilors in favour of its demands.
“We provide significant employment and have an international reputation. We think the province could meet its revenue projections at Woodbine and make horse-racing sustainable.”