Gateway Casinos and Entertainment Ltd. is reportedly sticking to what it knows best – just don’t expect them to say it anytime soon.
According to several London media outlets, the operator has halted plans to build a new $75 million Starlight Casino and will focus on expanding its operations at its current location, Western Fair District.
Gateway initially announced development ambitions in 2018, but COVID-19 changed that.
Rob Mitchell, the director of communications and public affairs for Gateway told PlayCanada:
“I can’t provide any new updates on our London operations. The focus of our business at our London Fairground location and all our Gateway Casinos is on customer engagement and providing the best gaming experience we possibly can. We are cautiously optimistic the worst of the COVID pandemic is behind us and patrons will continue to be comfortable and confident that it is safe to enjoy all our casinos once again.”
An Ontario Lottery Corporation spokesperson said:
“It is best if our service provider, Gateway Casino answers your questions as they run the day-to-day operations of the facility and if they decided to expand, or redevelop elsewhere, they are using their capital.”
Gateway Casinos and Western Fair District engage in talks
In December 2018, Gateway Casinos said it planned on building a new Ontario casino after negotiations broke down with the Western Fair District. Reportedly, the operator wanted to reduce its lease or buy land at the fair.
But when neither materialized, Gateway took its business elsewhere – or so it thought.
Initially, the operator fancied the land at 3334 and 3354 Wonderland Road. London businessperson Walt Spivak owns the plot, so Gateway had to lease the site.
In Jan. 2020, the work started. Construction crews began clearing the location and demolishing existing buildings in the process.
However, COVID prematurely ended those efforts, forcing Gateway to rethink its game plan.
Gateway Casinos remains silent on casino plans
Since then, The London Free Press reports Gateway has ditched its Starlight Casino plans and instead, per a “close source,” intends to “make a significant investment to expand” at its current location.
What that exact dollar amount is, however, remains unknown.
Mitchell was mum on specifics. So, whether Gateway worked out a more favourable lease or got strong-armed into staying remains a top question.
Gateway Casinos at Western Fair District already features 750+ slots
Another topic of concern is what, exactly, the expansion includes.
Consider Gateway Casino at Western Fair District already has a respectable list of options to enjoy, including:
- 750+ slots, including progressive jackpot slots
- Table games include roulette, high card flush, mini baccarat and blackjack variations
- My Club Rewards points program
- Live horse racing on its half-mile track.
A significant upgrade could also tag on a sportsbook or poker room at the location. Currently, the site has neither.
For comparison’s sake, the proposed $75 million Starlight Casino would include:
- 10,000-square-metres of casino
- 900 slot machines
- 40 gambling tables
Improvements in Western District could have broad impacts
Of course, the bottom line in all of this is the money.
To that end, the expectation was the now-axed Starlight Casino project would generate over 1,000 jobs and $4.5 million in gaming revenue alone for the city.
In contrast, the Western Fair District reported $526,728 in profits in its last annual report pre-COVID (2019).
Indeed, a sports centre, raceway, food market, and more already exist. Nonetheless, operating expenses for The District remain high at $16.9 million in 2019.
Western District’s media personnel did not respond to PlayCanada on the potential economic benefit of an improved casino.
Local merchants in favour of casino improvements
Regardless, The London Free Press reports merchants in the Western Fair District, like Martha Leach, believe the increased foot traffic could help the bottom line.
“Keeping the casino there keeps activity in the east end and that’s great for everyone. They call this the entertainment district. This is fantastic news. It attracts people and not just gamblers.”
Meanwhile, others, such as Dianne Byczok, believe Gateway had the location right all along.
“The traffic on Wonderland is atrocious. It gets traffic from the highway (401). Here is much better.”
Gateway Casinos continues expansion across Canada
Gateway – a “service provider” for OLG — currently operates 29 casinos across Canada, including three ‘Starlight’ locations.
OLG receives revenue from Ontario gambling operations, including Gateway. The Crown corporation then divides the money between operators, municipalities and provinces.
Regardless, OLG could not give definite answers about Gateway’s intentions at the fair. However, the pair have a close relationship as they plan to launch a Playtime casino in Wasaga Beach this fall.
Meanwhile, across the country, Cascades Casino Delta – also operated by Gateway – is set to debut on Sept.29.
The establishment cost $99.3 million.