The Great Blue Heron Charity Casino changes to a commercial casino on September 8, 2016. This is part of the agreement reached with Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) and the Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation (MSIFN) to transition the property to the OLG's Toronto Gaming Bundle.
Under this agreement, the property becomes assumed by OLG, and will be included in the Request for Proposal (RFP) for operation of the casinos at Woodbine, Ajax - and now Scugog Island.
What Does the Commercial Status Mean?
The casino has always been a charity casino, meaning that a portion of the site's revenue was prescribed to be slated toward charitable causes. In this case, that process was managed by a group called the Baagwating Community Association.
Under the commerical status, this is no longer a requirement, although MSIFN's chief Kelly LaRocca has indicated that the MSIFN would continue to provide charitable contributions through a new committee operated by the MSIFN. No further details have been conveyed as to the mandate of this committee, although local communities will undoubtedly be looking for clarification.
A re-branding of the facility will see the word "charity" removed from virtually everything from signage to marketing materials and everything in-between.
Also, the OLG logo will soon be on everything at the casino, replacing the Casinos Austria logo that was visible on table layouts.
A signing ceremony will take place on September 15, with officials from both parties.
A commercial designation should bring an increase in gaming limits in the near future. Most of the other small casinos in the province have a $500 betting limit on table games, whereas the Great Blue Heron currently has a $100 betting limit. The larger commercial casino resorts have much higher betting limits.
It should also allow for no limit and pot limit stakes in poker, which are allowed at other commercial sites, and would help attract patrons that currently travel farther to the other venues.
An increase in stakes will undoubtedly result in an increase in revenue for the key stakeholders. Whether this increase results in a proportional share given to charities is another area that merits discussion.
A Shift in Management
As the change to OLG progresses, the MSIFN's involvement in the ongoing operation of the casino will gradually diminish. As well, Casinos Austria, who have been a managing partner in the table games of the site, will also gradually hand off management to OLG and it's selected operating company. Selection of that company has been targeted by the OLG for late summer 2017. Handover will likely take place in 2018.
Employees of the casino have been assured that their positions will be guaranteed under the new operator for one year. Most of the non-managment employees of the site are unionized.
What Else Might Change?
The new designation (and perhaps also the agreement) may also bring an expansion in the number of tables (or gaming positions as the OLG specifies) and slots allowed at the site, though space may be a limiting factor with the existing building.
It may also permit new game types that were previously unavailable at the casino, like craps and sic-bo. Again, space may be a limiting factor.
High-limit slots may also come into play. The current ones have a $5 per credit limit.
Shuttle buses similar to the ones running to Rama and Niagara could also become a reality, though perhaps on a smaller scale. They weren't allowed under charity status. Same thing for limousine service for high rollers.
When limits go up, we can expect larger demonimation chips than the currently circulating $500 ones. Many casinos make higher denom chips larger in diameter, to avoid cheating plays, like the Savannah roulette scam, where a large value chip is hidden below smaller ones and switched out when the bet loses.
Casino credit service and accepting patron bank wire transfers are also common when casinos have higher limits.
The new managing company will be responsible not only for operation, but also for investment and expansion decisions. The current facility was opened in 1997, and was only designed to be temporary.
The roof of the structure has had leaking problems for many years, with a number of repair and recovering efforts. If the casino is going to be there long-term, a more permanent structure is going to be needed, either on the existing building footprint or elsewhere in the immediate area.
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