A light pattern on the ceiling of the Caesars Windsor rotunda commemorates the casino on its 25th anniversary. Photo by Mark Brown/Blackburn News.

Caesars Windsor marks 25 years

An attraction that changed the makeup of Windsor-Essex entertainment is marking its silver anniversary.

Caesars Windsor kicked off its 25th-anniversary celebration with a media event at the casino’s Cosmos Lounge Tuesday morning. The event was attended by casino employees, local dignitaries, as well as representatives from Caesars Entertainment and Ontario Lottery and Gaming (OLG).

Kevin Laforet, regional president of Caesars Entertainment, has been with the casino since day one. He said he never imagined in his wildest dreams that he would be standing in an entertainment entity that has grown into the biggest of its kind in Canada.

“We were the first in the country to do it, so everything was the first,” said Laforet. “I was the sixth employee, and they told me that in five weeks we were going to have 1,800 employees, and you don’t have a bank account, you don’t have a payroll system, and you’re going to have to pay these people. So it’s always been exciting.”

Natalie Sutak-Lucente has also been with Caesars Windsor for 25 years. The current advertising manager was hired as a staff accountant in 1994 and is amazed at how far the casino has come.

“I just can’t believe it’s already been 25 years,” said Sutak-Lucente. “When I got hired I was still in university, and I thought I had to try to get an interview to work here because I knew this would be something big, and here I am today.”

The casino has come a long way from its humble beginnings on the Windsor riverfront, where it opened in May 1994 on the site of the current Chimczuk Museum and Art Gallery of Windsor. The temporary casino was soon supplemented by the Northern Belle riverboat, moored off the riverfront near the current casino complex. Both were instant hits and the permanent casino-hotel complex opened in 1998 on Riverside Drive East and Glengarry Avenue.

Laforet said the casino almost immediately had a strong reputation in the North American gaming industry and later, worldwide.

“I think we’ve built on that,” said Laforet. “And certainly when we aligned with the Caesars brand, that really gave us a lot of swagger and worldwide notoriety.”

The complex was rebranded Caesars Windsor in 2008 in an effort to attract new customers, compete with the three casinos in downtown Detroit, and attract the American customers who had shied away from crossing the border since the 9/11 terrorist attacks led to upgraded passport policies. Expansions included a second hotel tower and a 5,000-seat Colosseum concert venue, which has attracted a wide variety of acts.

The casino has also bounced back from labour disputes, with the most recent one shutting the casino down for two months in the spring of 2018.

Caesars Windsor is owned and operated by OLG, and it was the first legal gaming operation in the province of Ontario. The casino attracts over three million visitors annually from around the world.