Casino expansion on the agenda at London City Hall

A rendering of the proposed $142-million casino development Gateway Casinos wants to build at the Western Fair.
A rendering of the proposed $142-million casino development Gateway Casinos wants to build at the Western Fair. Gateway Casinos

Gateway Casinos says the process to move forward with a new $142-million expansion in London has been a bit frustrating, but the group is excited about making their plans a reality.

The strategic priorities and policy committee will have a couple things to consider during their Monday meeting. They will take a look at whether the city should allow expanded gaming within the current casino, and will look into the results of a recent survey done by the city.

The online poll gathered information from 727 people over a three-week period, with 69 per cent of respondents saying they were in favour of adding additional slots and live-table games like poker, blackjack and roulette.

Gateway Casino’s Rob Mitchell tells 980 CFPL they still haven’t nailed down a location as talks continue with the Western Fair to see if they can expand since the city declined its offer to buy the property.

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“We’re still very optimistic, London is a great city, it’s been a great city for the casino as it exists currently. We’re just looking for an opportunity to expand.”

READ MORE: Survey shows support for expanding gaming in London

Of those surveyed by the city, 69 per cent were in support of adding additional slots and live-table games like poker, blackjack and roulette. Reasons for support were split equally among job creation, economic impact and a need for added entertainment in London. As far as the 31 per cent who were opposed to the idea, 62 per cent felt it would have a negative impact on the community.

The results by the city mirror a study that was done by Gateway, Canada’s largest private casino operator, in late 2017. Gateway’s survey, done by Navigator, a public strategy and communications firm, found that 74 per cent of Londoners support the proposed casino, 42 per cent of whom are strongly supportive.

The Gateway survey gathered information from 700 Londoners between Sept. 28 and Oct. 6, 2017. It found Londoners don’t have a strong attachment to the casino being located at Western Fair with 57 per cent saying they didn’t have any objection to a future casino being located elsewhere in the city. 74 per cent said there wasn’t a location in the city they would object to.

READ MORE: Gateway reveals vision for new London casino development

Western Fair CEO Hugh Mitchell supports the casino expansion happening at the fair grounds.

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“There’s a joint benefit if gaming is expanded at this site that goes back to the city, ourselves, Gateway and hopefully the public.”

There have been concerns about whether harness racing could survive if the casino was re-located. Gateway isn’t tied to the location beyond 2020. The current lease, which was signed before Gateway took over operations of the slots at Western Fair, costs Gateway $6 million a year and expires in 2020.

Rob Mitchell says Gateway would prefer to own, not lease, the land they expand on. It remains unclear if the city of London is willing to sell the land it co-owns to facilitate that.

READ MORE: Full-fledged casino in the cards for London?

During Monday afternoon’s vote, councillors will vote on a staff recommendation to move forward with allowing more gambling, Regulation 81-12. Mitchell says the vote is a hurdle they didn’t think they’d have to deal with.

“It’s been a bit disappointing. We thought the regulation was already in place. Most of the communities in Ontario have dealt with that issue and dealt with it in 2012,” he said.

In 2012, London told the province the city was a willing host community for gaming and the city supports an expanded gaming program. The city has since been soliciting public feedback on the issue.

Monday’s meeting, which is open to the public, begins at 4 p.m. at city hall.

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