The City Council of Toronto voted in favour of a community benefits agreement and a rezoning application that allows gambling expansion at the current Rexdale racetrack. On Thursday, councillors approved the massive project of Ontario Gaming GTA designed to turn Woodbines Racetrack, a facility for thoroughbred and standardbred racing, into a full-fledged casino, hotel and entertainment complex.
After discussing the ambitious project for two days, on April 27, councillors approved the rezoning and planning application for Woodbines Racetrack, which is located in the Toronto district of Rexdale, formerly Etobicoke. Earlier, on April 4, the Etobicoke and York Community council favoured the casino expansion and recommended that Toronto officials give it the green light as it is expected to bring the city more than $30 million in annual hosting fees. Currently, the city now receives approximately $16 million each year as a share of the racetrack’s revenue. However, when the new casino complex is fully operational in 2022, it should generate higher revenues and give additional $15 million to city coffers.
At the Thursday meeting, councillors also voted 26-15 in favour of the community benefits agreement with the developer and future operator of the casino, Ontario Gaming Greater Toronto Area Ltd. (Ontario Gaming GTA Ltd.). The consortium is, in fact, a partnership between one of the largest gambling companies in Canada, Great Canadian Gaming Corporation, and Brookfield Business Partners LP. According to this agreement, at least 40 per cent of all new casino employees would be hired from the local area, while 10 per cent or more of the construction work hours would also be done by apprentices or journeypersons from the region.
A local group, called Toronto Community Benefits Network, says that the agreement between the city and the private operator also includes the requirement that at least half of all jobs would be full-time. In addition, the deal provides for an investment of $5 million intended for the development of a daycare which would be used by the employees. Its extended hours should match those of the casino workers. The agreement also cites tight accountability measures, so that the city can make sure that the casino would really make a significant contribution to the local community and that all requirements for the benefits are met.
Transforming Northwest Toronto
The proposed gaming facility would be much more than a casino, Etobicoke North Coun. Michael Ford said before the Thursday vote. According to him, the massive project which includes a hotel, retail and entertainment venues, would really transform the northwest part of the city. The casino would be part of a large-scale complex that would have restaurants, shops, and office space. It would probably include a 5,000-seat events and concerts arena, which would be constructed next to the racetrack.
The expansion of gaming offerings is a significant part of the project. Currently, the slots venue besides the racetrack, Woodbine Casino, has approximately 3,000 electronic games – over 2,500 slot machines as well as tens of virtual poker, blackjack and roulette games. The expanded facility would host around 5,000 slot machines and virtual table games and for the first time, it would offer patrons 300 live dealer tables.
As Coun. John Filion explained, however, gambling could be extremely harmful to some people. This is why the city should try to “extract every community benefit” it can. Ford said the full master plan should not be looked at merely as a gambling destination, but as a large development that gives Toronto the opportunity to leverage investment for “years to come”. He believes that this is essential for the lives and wellbeing of Rexdale residents.