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Ward 4 councillor surveying constituents about potential casino development

One London councillor is surveying city residents about their thoughts on the proposed new casino project.
One London councillor is surveying city residents about their thoughts on the proposed new casino project. Associated Press/File

City council will get the final say on whether London should roll the dice on a full-service casino, so one local politician has already started a dialogue with his constituents.

Days after the announcement that Gateway Casinos & Entertainment would be investing $200 million in Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) properties across southwestern Ontario — including the current slot and racetrack complex in London — Ward 4 councillor Jesse Helmer created an online feedback forum about the project.

Helmer, whose ward includes the site, launched the web page to get feedback not just from his own ward residents, but all Londoners.

“People are very interested in what the plans are,” Helmer said. “It’s not the kind of business expansion that comes with no drawbacks. There are some drawbacks in terms of people developing gambling addictions, and there’s obviously a lot of public input into any of these decisions. So I think setting up a feedback page is just a good way of getting that initial feedback of what kind of concerns [and questions] people have, then I can use that to inform my discussions with the folks at Gateway, the Western Fair [District] and others.”

READ MORE: Gateway plans major casino property in London after reaching deal with OLG

The deal could mean an expansion of the facility into one that houses table games, restaurants, a hotel, and non-gaming entertainment venues, though the specific proposal has yet to be outlined. Gateway has said it would like to make London its Ontario headquarters, bringing as many as 1,000 jobs with it.

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“We are planning a major gaming and entertainment casino property in London,” senior vice-president of marketing and communications Carrie Kormos told AM980. “However, we are still working on our plans and it is important to be respectful of the approval process that we have with our OLG partners, with government and with other folks.”

The first few comments on Helmer’s page were mixed.

“Support. There are a ton of people who are traveling elsewhere to find real table games. Having them stay in town will allow the money to go to our city’s coffers,” wrote Ryan Stubbs.

“I’d prefer that there was not a casino in the neighbourhood, I don’t think they provide a lot of positive value to society. I don’t think we have a lot of choice in this matter though,” said Michael McAlpine.

Noah Stewart posed some questions about the project rather than stating support or opposition, asking about the revenue model for the city and responsible gaming oversight by the OLG.

Helmer said there were many early questions regarding what will happen with casino proceeds.

“[There are] a lot of questions around what’s going to happen in terms of reinvestment in the community,” he said. “There’s generally a share of the gaming proceeds that goes to the city from OLG, but what to extent will they invest it really near to the casino area versus just spending it on things city-wide?”

Gateway signed a 20-year casino operation and services agreement with the OLG and has purchased the business and assets of the Southwest Gaming Bundle, effective Tuesday.

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The bundle includes a casino in Point Edward, and slots in Woodstock, London, Clinton, Dresden and Hanover.