Casino News

Western Fair District Struggles to Protect Its Tradition and Legacy as Casino Expansion Looms

Typically, gambling has been frowned upon by society. Even nowadays, residents usually have mixed feelings about every new casino project. Gateway’s casino project at Western Fairground made no exception to the rule. The casino expansion project turned into a hot-button topic for London officials and residents. Despite the clashing opinions on the matter, casinos are unique economic catalysts.

Hugh Mitchell, Western Fair’s chief executive was, and still is, among the people, who support Gateway’s casino project. Some time ago, he explained that it is in the interest of the racetrack to welcome Gateway’s casino expansion plan. Mr. Mitchell elaborated that if Gateway and its C$6.2 million annual lease payment go away, it will put the raceway in a difficult financial situation.

According to the latest updates, it seems that Hugh Mitchell is somehow concerned about the identity of the racetrack. He stated that the site has an established reputation for hosting various events, including conferences, entertainment, agricultural events, horse racing and hockey. The Western Fair District boss added that he just wants to make sure that the casino expansion will not obliterate the identity of the racetrack. Rob Mitchell, Gateway spokesperson explained that the company has no intention to “jeopardize” the racetrack’s identity, but just to negotiate a cheaper lease or to buy the plot of land.

The Story Behind Gateway’s Casino Expansion Project

Some time ago, Ontario Lottery Gaming Corporation (OLG) moved to privatize all of its gambling operations as part of its modernization plan that aimed at increasing the net profits for the province. In 2017, OLG has signed a 20-year Casino Operating and Services Agreement (COSA) with Gateway Casinos & Entertainment. Under the deal, Gateway has taken over the day-to-day operations and assets of the North and Southwest Gaming Bundles. Currently, Gateway is the official operator of the Western Fair slots.

Following the announcement, Gateway promised to invest over C$200 million investment in rejuvenating and expanding the gambling venue at the fairgrounds. The company revealed that it plans to build a premier full-fledged gambling center that includes more slot machines and gaming tables, if the city approves.

The company suggested building its premium brand “Grand Villa” casino that brings the highly-praised signature of the company. In addition to that, Gateway also proposed to diversify its product range by adding non-gambling facilities such as hotel and restaurants. And it seems that the gambling company kept its word. The construction process is broken down into two phases and the company hopes to complete the whole project in 2 years.

However, Gateway’s project hit a snag after the company announced that it needs a lower lease rate in order to implement its ambitious project. Solving the lease issue turned out to be harder than expected as the fairgrounds is a jointly-owned property by the Western Fair District and the City of London. This means that there are too many parties, sitting around the negotiating table.

The casino currently pays the Western Fair District C$6.2 million a year through a lease that expires in 2020. Late last year, Gateway explained that if the company does not get what it is looking for, it will re-direct its attention to another place in London.