Gateway moving casino plans southwest

Slot machine file photo courtesy of © Can Stock Photo / korzeniewskidan

Gaming giant Gateway Casinos and Entertainment is still fully committed to building a casino in London, just not at the Western Fair District.

In a move that would see the British Columbia-based company move out of the east-end, Gateway inked a deal earlier this week to relocate its planned entertainment complex to a site on Wonderland Road, north of Wharncliffe Road.

“It just became increasingly difficult to come to an agreement [at the Western Fair District] and there were a number of issues that arose that we couldn’t have anticipated,” said Rob Mitchell, Gateway’s director of communications. “The latest of which was an archeological study which revealed the ruins of what I believe was a Presbyterian church and it had a cemetery. There were issues about dealing with that… and issues around demolition, the existing footprint, and the aging infrastructure of the fairgrounds. It became increasingly problematic for us to stay there.”

Negotiations between Gateway, city hall, and the Western Fair District had dragged on for a year and a half and were said to be very slow-going.

Gateway had been proposing to build a $140 million casino, hotel and restaurant complex at the Western Fair District. It would have included up to 1,200 slot machines, 46 gaming tables, and would have created nearly 1,000 jobs.

At this point, there is no indication what the country’s largest private casino operator has planned for the new southwest London site.

“All I can tell you is that we just got that lease arrangement, we are looking at that property and will be moving forward at that site and reassessing what our plans and intentions are for London,” said Mitchell. “We are absolutely committed to building a new casino in London, but it is basically a clean slate now. It’s a totally different proposition than what it was at the fairground.”

Mitchell said he anticipates more information about the company’s new development plans on Wonderland Road will be released early in the new year.

Before it can begin construction of a casino at the new site, Gateway would have to go to the city to have the area rezoned, something Mitchell doesn’t foresee as a big hurdle.

“It currently is described as an enterprise zone as part of the city, which is a blanket expression by the city that my understanding is that it is open for creative, commercial, residential, industrial development,” said Mitchell. “It should be relatively easy for us to acquire the necessary zoning.”

Gateway’s relocation plans put harness racing in the city in jeopardy, Western Fair District officials said Thursday.

“We have made both the OLG (Ontario Lottery and Gaming) and the Ford government aware of the level of financial support needed to continue our racing operation if Gateway relocates. We are currently waiting for the government’s response to our formal request for long-term funding support,” Western Fair President Hugh Mitchell said in a statement.

The Raceway at Western Fair generates an economic impact of more than $50 million and supports well over 5,000 jobs across the region, according to the Western Fair president, who added that he wasn’t shocked, but disappointed by Gateway’s decision to move.

“Our preference would have been to have Gateway remain here,” he said.

Gateway assumed control of the day-to-day operations of the slots in London in May 2017 after entering into a 20-year deal with the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation the previous December. The company also took over the slots in Woodstock, Clinton, Dresden, and Hanover, as well as the casino in Point Edward. It has since broken ground on a new $36 million casino in Chatham.