Ontario to hand over gambling control to private operators

By Robert Simmons
Officials from the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp (OLG) have confirmed that they will hand over control of gambling operations in the greater Toronto area to a private operator.

The OLG have revealed that they will select the chosen business within the next few weeks, giving the operator full control over its casino and thousands of slots machines in the greater Toronto area for the next 22 years. It is a potentially lucrative carrot that has attracted many local and international firms to the table.

According to reports in the Globe and Mail newspaper, at least three companies are in the running to take over control of gambling at the Woodbine racetrack in Toronto, Ajax Downs and the Great Blue Heron Casino in Port Perry. Rumoured but as yet unconfirmed bidders include: American casino giant Caesars Entertainment, Canadian property developers Brookfield Asset Management and Malaysian casino conglomerate Genting Group.

The Woodbine racetrack is located close to Toronto Pearson International Airport and nearby Highway 401, making it a potentially ripe site for development by the winning operator should they choose to do so. John Siscos, a spokesperson for Woodbine Entertainment, who help to run the Woodbine site, welcomed the move saying: “The OLG’s modernization plan is the catalyst for Woodbine Entertainment to unlock the value of the Woodbine lands to sustain horse racing on our 680-acre site and bring real economic development to Rexdale,”

As part of the bidding process, each tendering company is required to undergo a review of its conduct. In an interview, OLG spokeswoman Allison MacNeil confirmed that: “Part of that process involves undergoing an extensive due-diligence process into current and past business conduct […] examines a gaming operator’s ability to act in accordance with the law, with integrity, honesty and in the public interest.”

Estimates released by the OLG confirm that the winning company will earn a minimum of $72-million annually for the 22 years of the deal, as well as up to 70 per cent of gambling revenue. The deal allows a private operator to rebuild all three sites as proper casino properties, with the potential to add a fourth casino subject to local approval.

Local MPP Shafiq Qaadri said that: “I’m looking forward to the long-awaited day when we can inaugurate a ‘Vegas North’ right here in the riding, bringing tourism, concerts, conferences, activity and buzz”.

However not everyone is championing the potential expansion, with 400 workers at the Woodbine racetrack picketing the site since mid-July in a row over the future of their jobs and government pensions after the racetrack is transferred to private ownership.


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