by Alex Campbell
The Toronto City Council May 20 voted 24-20 against expansion of the gaming facility at Woodbine to include more slot machines and table games.
The vote took place at a special council meeting on the casino debate; a potential casino resort complex in downtown Toronto was also rejected. City councilman Mike Layton introduced a series of motions that not only prevented new gambling sites to be considered within the "C2" gaming zone, but also rejected any potential expansion at Woodbine, which is located in that zone.
"We are shocked and disappointed by Toronto City Council's actions, which have put thousands of jobs at risk," said Nick Eaves, president and chief executive officer for Woodbine Entertainment Group. "Despite the fact that a majority of Torontonians supported expanding gaming at Woodbine, council rejected the opportunity to protect 7,500 existing jobs in Toronto and tens of thousands more throughout the province."
With Toronto's council voting down a downtown casino, the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. has said that it would seek an alternative site for a casino complex. Those alternatives could be communities close to Woodbine, such as Mississauga, Vaughan, or Markham.
"We are deeply concerned that council's decision may open the door for a competing casino in a neighboring municipality, which could be devastating to our operations, to our core business, and to horse racing in Ontario," Eaves said.
Toronto's Executive Committee was presented with a city staff report in early April on the casino issue. In the report, city staff recommended the council approve an expansion of the Woodbine slots facility from 3,000 machines to 4,500, and also approve the addition of 150 table games.
Woodbine had hoped expanded gaming would help offset the loss in revenue the track has experienced as a result of the cancellation of the slots-at-racetracks program at the end of March. Instead of receiving a percentage of the revenue generated from machines located on-site, the new agreement between Woodbine and the OLG is similar to a standard commercial lease.
Without expanded gaming, Eaves said Woodbine's horse racing operations could be at risk.
"Woodbine is vital to the horse racing industry and there are thousands of people in communities across Ontario whose livelihoods depend on it," he said. "Now, with all those jobs in jeopardy, we need to get this right and look forward to continuing the dialogue with Premier (Kathleen) Wynne to ensure they are not lost."
Wynne and the Ontario government announced the week of May 12 that they had asked the province's Horse Racing Transition Panel to develop a longterm plan to integrate the horse racing industry into the province's overall gaming strategy. Eaves would like to see WEG involved in those discussions with the province and the Horse Racing Transition Panel.
"Premier Wynne, who is also the Minister of Agriculture, has indicated that horse racing will be part of Ontario's new gaming strategy going forward," Eaves said. "With this in mind, we want to work with her to ensure that horse racing and the 55,000 jobs it supports across this province have a viable, sustainable future."