London city council is doubling down on gambling in the city.
City politicians voted 9-4 Tuesday night to rezone a plot of land on Wonderland Road near Wharncliffe Road in the southwest end of the city to allow Gateway Casinos to build a $75-million casino.
Ward 3 Coun. Mo Salih, Ward 9 Coun. Anna Hopkins, Ward 11 Coun. Stephen Turner and Ward 12 Coun. Elizabeth Peloza voted against the rezoning, Ward 10 Coun. Paul Van Meerbergen and Ward 13 Coun. Arielle Kayabaga were absent, all others voted in favour.
The vote in favour of the casino came a week after the planning committee was deadlocked on the issue.
Mayor Ed Holder was most vocal in his support for the casino rezoning.
“Every economic indicator says this makes sense for us,” he said. “They might simply say, they’ve had enough. I’m not fear-mongering, I’m just saying as a business person, as someone who understands that time delays mean real money. You know what it also is? It’s an indicator. It’s an indicator that London isn’t open for business.”
The rezoning vote comes after efforts to build a $140 million casino at Western Fair fell through. Gateway decided to look for a new location after negotiations between Gateway, Western Fair District and London city hall stalled.
The casino will create 1,000 jobs for London, $4.5 million in OLG revenue sharing and $2.5 million in annual tax revenue. Once completed, the casino will 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.
Holder argued they risked losing the casino if they said no.
“Gateway can make a choice, and when you understand how business works, particularly as this process has taken longer than some might imagine, they have a choice. They can go north of the 401 or they can go south.”
City council also voted 11-2 in favour of more consultation with First Nations communities. Oneida Nation of the Thames wrote a letter to council expressing their disappointment at the lack of consultation to date.
Chief Jessica Hill wrote they believe the project “will have negative impacts on our community.”
Mayor Holder and Ward 8 Coun. Steve Lehman were the only two to vote against further consultation.
Holder said he voted no because he believed the consultation had already taken place. He referenced a conversation he had with officials at the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Commission about the consultation being their responsibility.
The consultation will occur with city staff, but won’t be part of a broader public meeting, which was voted down by council.
It’s possible construction at the site could begin as early as September.
Gateway has said the casino will be their largest investment in Ontario to date. 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.