A Longstanding Controversy
For several years, Toronto has witnessed vigorous debate surrounding the issue of establishing casinos. Efforts in the recent past to establish a large casino complex in Toronto’s booming downtown section met with resounding defeat.
Now, another proposal to make gaming more available to residents of Ontario’s largest city seem poised for success. A plan to significantly expand Woodbine Racetrack in the outlying Rexdale neighborhood bordering Lester B. Pearson International Airport created a lot of excitement.
Proponents hope the measure will inject a big economic stimulus into surrounding communities. The Ontario Lottery and Gaming agency invited companies to provide proposals to develop commercial gaming at Woodbine and in two other outlying Toronto suburbs.
Outlying sites include Ajax Downs Racetrack and the Great Blue Heron Charity Casino. The main focus of investment would center upon the economically struggling neighborhood surrounding the airport.
Expanding Woodbine’s Entertainment Facilities
Toronto currently receives some $15 million in revenues from Woodbine Racetrack’s gaming operations. Plans to expand gambling there to provide more than the existing 2,700 slots machines and computerized poker tables have circulated for some time.
The racetrack draws customers who bet on horse races. Recently, the track operator and Trinity Development Group, embarked upon ambitious plans to enhance entertainment offered at the location. They envision a 165,000 square foot facility and concert hall on several acres next to the track. The site would suit casino operations. Parking would not pose a problem. Additional plans for entertainment at Woodbine Racetrack include a water park, and multiple restaurants and hotels on 680 nearby acres. The massive development project would likely make the economically depressed Rexdale neighborhood a tourist attraction.
Big Gaming Industry Players
Not surprisingly, these plans have elicited interest from some major casino companies. Observers believe these groups include:
Penn National Gaming;
Great Canadian Gaming Corp;
Fallsview Casino (owned by Ontario Lottery and Gaming “OLG”);
Two gaming industry firms withdrew from consideration earlier: The Sands and MGM. All of the remaining bidders offer some significant advantages.
Of the active bidders, Caesars Entertainment remains the largest. It operates over 50 casinos internationally, including Harrah’s, Bally, and Caesar’s Palace. It owns the World Series of Poker and several golf course resorts, too. However, in 2015 Caesars Entertainment placed its casino division under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, causing some Canadians to wonder if the company would find itself in a good position to operate the proposed expanded Woodbine gaming facility.
The massive Genting Group also oversees numerous casinos internationally, including 47 in the UK alone. The company invested heavily in cruise lines and enjoys revenues estimated at $4 billion annually. The Malaysian-based firm has not entered the Canadian gaming market previously.
Other Strong Contenders
The other four companies also offer strengths. For example, Penn National Gaming owns and operates many racetracks and casinos in the United States and Canada. The firm possesses extensive experience managing these types of properties. With annual revenues in excess of $2.5 billion, the company could tackle a major expansion of Woodbine.
Great Canadian Gaming (based in British Columbia) remains rooted firmly within Canada and does not manage any overseas properties. The OLG-owned Fallsview Casino operates a casino in Niagara Falls, Ontario. Mohegan Sun possesses experience operating a large Connecticut resort gaming facility.
A Significant Project
If it proceeds, the project could transform Woodbine Racetrack. The neighborhood could become a tourism center in coming decades.