Casino debate leaves city committee deadlocked

Artist rendering of proposed casino for London.
Artist rendering of proposed casino for London. (submitted photo)

London city hall’s planning committee isn’t ready to buy in on a casino for the southwest part of the city.

A request by Gateway Casino and Entertainment to rezone 3334 and 3354 Wonderland Rd. S. between Bradley Avenue and Wharncliffe Road failed Monday night on a 2-2 vote.

The rezoning was supported by city hall staff but the failed tie vote means the issue will now advance to full council next week without a committee recommendation. Mayor Ed Holder and Ward 5 Coun. Maureen Cassidy voted in favour of the rezoning, Ward 9 Coun. Anna Hopkins and Ward 11 Coun. Stephen Turner voted against it.

Ward 4 Coun. Jesse Helmer and Ward 6 Coun. Phil Squire were absent.

READ MORE: COSA and Ontario Racing support Western Fair, unhappy with London’s casino relocation

Holder encouraged committee members to get behind the project, arguing Gateway could leave, taking jobs and tax revenue with them.

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“So here’s our reality check,” said Holder. “North or south of the 401 a decision is going to be made and Gateway is going to go north or south of the 401. If they go north of the 401, which is the current site that they’re suggesting they are indicating 700 permanent new jobs created.”

300 jobs are already in place, the 700 jobs added would bring the total to 1,000 jobs supported by Gateway.

Additionally, the city would expect to receive $2.5 million in tax revenue annually, along with $4.5 million in revenue sharing from the Ontario Lottery Gaming Corp.

Gateway’s request comes a year after city council rezoned the Western Fairgrounds to allow for expanded gaming there. However, talks between Western Fair and Gateway broke down.

READ MORE: Gateway folds casino plans for Western Fair District, signs lease for southwest property

“We selected the site we did with protracted negotiations with the fairground,” said Gateway spokesman Rob Mitchell. “Unfortunately we were not able to find an amicable resolution to our concerns with the fairground site. We had some outstanding issues with what was an archeological study that revealed a cemetery.”

The committee meeting was part of a public participation meeting where members of the public, and some councillors, expressed misgivings about the project.

Concerns about problem gambling and the location of the proposed casino were raised. Local residents expressed concern about the noise increased traffic would create.

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Turner was also critical of how Gateway has advocated for the project in the media.

“We’ve gone through the steps, steps that we’re required to by law and those have been seen as administrative hurdles, that’s the law, that’s what we have to do,” he said. “At every step and every corner we hear something in the media saying that we’re being obstructionist, that’s disappointing. Even, in the past week to have comments saying there’s a new environment so things are better. Not helpful.”

READ MORE: Ontario eliminates funding for problem gambling research, agency to close by summer

Gateway unveiled its plans for the site last month.

The casino operator plans to build a $75 million, 9,290 square metre gaming complex that would include 900 slot machines, 40 table games, several restaurants and live music. The 6.8-hectare site would be large enough to host 999 parking spaces. The B.C.-based company operates 28 casinos across the country, all located in B.C., Alberta and Ontario.

The London casino would fall under their ‘Starlight’ brand.

Gateway’s presence in southwestern Ontario has grown dramatically in the past 2-3 years. They now operate casinos in Woodstock, Chatham, Clinton and Dresden. Chatham-Kent’s new $36 million casino opened its doors to the public earlier this week.

The issue will be debated by full council next Tuesday at 4 p.m.

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