Toronto Considering Casinos Once Again


The gambling buzz in Toronto – Canada’s most populated city – has been renewed as Caesars and five other casino companies are considering a bid to build gambling resorts in the eastern part of the city.

There are several decrepit gambling sites in and around Toronto that could use some revitalizing and Ontario Lottery and Gaming has bundled them together and is looking to sell it to an investor who wants to get involved. Of course, there is plenty of intrigue as it gives the opportunity for some big boys to crack a market that has been closed off to outsiders for many years.

The resorts that are in the discussion are Woodbine Racetrack, Ajax Downs, and the Great Blue Heron casino.

As of now, all that’s up for grabs in the bidding process is the opportunity to take control of the sites and propose future plans. That could involve anything from major renovations of the sites to relocation, although Woodbine is one venue that cannot be moved. Any plans would require the approval of OLG as well as the current Premier of Ontario, Kathleen Wynne, as well as her cabinet.

Early reports have suggested that Caesars is involved, even though the company, who is currently in bankruptcy protection, would not comment. Other companies in the mix include Genting Group, Mohegan Sun, Great Canadian Gaming Corp. and Penn National Gaming. The only company to confirm that they’ve been invited to the OLG’s bidding process was Great Canadian Gaming.

A lot of this stems from the fact that Woodbine Racetrack has been a fading brand and attraction for many years now. It was supposed to get a shot in the arm in 2013 when a Baltimore investor wanted to build a full complex, including a mall and entertainment complex, but that was scrapped. Again in 2013, there were conversations about turning the Woodbine Racetrack into a full casino (currently there is just horse betting and slot machines), but that idea was also turned aside. As a result, Woodbine’s business has continued to decline, which is why council – who rejected the full casino idea in 2013 – is now open to changes as they fear for the track’s closure.

Woodbine also has the best location of the bundled casinos, which is why it’s considered the jewel in this bunch. It is easily accessible within about a highway drive from anywhere in the city and is very close to Pearson Airport, which is why there is so much potential. But whatever is built has to be more than just a tired old racetrack.

The race track itself, operated by Woodbine Entertainment Group, even has its own plan to remodel and bring their venue back to life. They’ve been working with international architecture firms with plans to build a full casino supported by a live entertainment venue, restaurants, hotels and possibly even a water park. To do that, though, the city would have to invest $20 million. The question is do they want to use public funds to make gambling investments, which is unlikely at this point.

Remember that this isn’t the first time we’ve had the casino talk in Toronto as in 2013 companies like Caesars and MGM Resorts International were pushing to build a complex on the waterfront but that was shut down by city council. It’s questionable whether they’d in fact approve either of them – or anyone else – to really get involved in Toronto. At the same time, they’d like to revive Woodbine Racetrack and the neighborhood around it, and standing pat is an option that will lead to its eventual close.