Woodbine Racetrack, a race track for thoroughbred and standardbred racing with more than 60 years on history in the City of Toronto, is on its way to turn into a large casino and hotel complex by 2022. The casino expansion, proposed by Ontario Gaming GTA, is expected to immediately create hundreds of jobs and bring in CA$31 million a year to the city coffers, but it also fuels a number of concerns, including a risk of higher rates of problem gambling.
The developer of the ambitious project, Ontario Gaming GTA (OGGTA), says that the gambling and entertainment complex would be beneficial to the community and the city budget. The company is a partnership between Great Canadian Gaming Corporation and Brookfield Business Partners LP, and in August 2017, the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) announced that it had selected it for the news service provider of the GTA Gaming Bundle. As part of this bundle, the company agreed to be responsible for the expanded gaming operations at Woodbine Racetrack. Currently, the venue has a Slots Parlour, called Woodbine Casino, which hosts more than 2,500 slot machines and dozens of virtual table games and virtual poker games.
The planned casino and entertainment complex would see an expansion of the gaming options, adding hundreds of live table games. In a report, the Toronto city staff estimates that by 2022 the new gambling facility would have approximately 5,000 electronic gaming positions as well as at least 300 live dealer tables. The project, however, is much more ambitious – along with the casino, there would be hotels, restaurants, retail outlets, and a performance hall. According to the plans, a little over 500 new jobs in construction will be created in 2019 and by the end of 2022, employment in operations will result in approximately 3,700 new positions, or 4,455 in total. Over the next few years, from 2022 to 2025, around 5,300 new jobs would be created.
All this is outlined in a last week’s report that evaluates the city council’s 21 conditions that need to be met by the casino developer before the project could proceed. One of them requires OGGTA to guarantee that at least 40 per cent of the new jobs would be saved for locals and that half of the newly hired employees would work full-time. Another highlight of the city staff report is that the city should receive an additional $15 million a year from Woodbine’s revenues and along with the current $16 million, the sum should amount to $31 million a year.
Some Believe the Proposed Casino Should Contribute More to the Community
Some organizations and members of the Council, however, claim that the city should have higher requirements when it comes to the contributions made from gambling operations. According to Councillor Mike Layton, the proposed casino would not invest in the local community as it should. He is one of the many who believes that the city should get at least $40 million a year in a revenue-sharing agreement. The Toronto Community Benefits Network also said that it would demand that local hires in the plan increase to at least 60 per cent. The organization also wants Woodbine to pay employees a living wage and provide a daycare on-site.
On April 4, the Etobicoke York Community Council reviewed and adopted a rezoning and planning application that permits the development of a casino complex on 555 Rexdale Boulevard. The documents included two rezoning applications – for the existing grandstand building and for a new Gaming District, as well as a Draft Plan of Subdivision application. The approval does not allow the project to be built just yet, however. The plans and applications will be considered by City Council on April 24 and if ratified, the project would be able to proceed to apply for further permits by authorities and different agencies.