It's been less than a week since Great Canadian Gaming (GCG - under Ontario Gaming GTA LP) took over control of the GTA's three gaming sites on January 23, 2018, but major changes are already well underway.
Some developments are more concrete than others, as longer-term plans are subject to change due to government and regulatory involvement, business plan changes, etc., so I will explore what is happening with the most immediate plans, and move on to the less definitive ones after.
Casino Ajax - Construction Begins Soon
Work on the expansion of Casino Ajax (formerly known OLG Slots at Ajax Downs) is slated to begin this week at the existing site. There will be some demolition work as Alexander's Crossing (the road leading past the parking lot and alongside the casino) is re-routed to Audley Road, making room for the new facilities.
Below are the existing facility and the approved site plan for the new one.
The expansion is slated for 26,000 square meters, or 280,000 square feet. With the existing building, the total will be over 350,000 - roughly five times the size of the existing site. The size and description also indicate that the expansion will also include hospitality components - including dining. Also, a multi-level parking structure is planned just east of the casino, and a surface parking lot in the northeast corner of the property.
Construction on the building expansion is planned to happen at a very aggressive pace, with opening of the new building expected this summer.
Given the accelerated timeline, GCG is going to also need to be aggressive in hiring and training new employees for gaming positions to meet this target.
Casino Woodbine - Existing Facilities for Now
The plans for Casino Woodbine have been in the works for some time now.
The long-term plan is to build a major compound on the land parcel in the northwest corner of the Woodbine site - just east of Highway 427 and south of Rexdale Boulevard.
Given the magnitude of this project, it is expected to take several years, at minimum, before construction will be finished. Not only a large casino, but also shopping, hotel and perhaps more.
In the interim, there is a great amount of space available in the upper floors of the existing Woodbine building, above the existing slot operations.
Gaming will be deployed, along with much more slot machines, in the upper levels of the building. GCG is working to have the expanded offering available in the coming months.
Casino Woodbine is going to have similar challenges to Casino Ajax when it comes to staffing. They will need to work very aggressively to ramp up the hiring and training of gaming employees in the near future.
Great Blue Heron Casino - A Potential Move
The plan for Great Blue Heron Casino is preparing to make improvements to it's existing site by the end of this year.
For those familiar with the existing casino, the main buildings are now 21 years old, and have roof structures that were intended to be temporary. Over the years there has been chronic leaking and repairs, including putting another membrane over the existing one about a decade ago. There hasn't been any major improvements to the gaming areas of the casino in a very long time.
A release today by The Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation and OGGLP indicate that the existing site will be redeveloped this year, adding 20,000 square feet of gaming space, and a 500-seat entertainment centre.
As well, a 100-room hotel will be built on the lands just south of the casino.
The redevelopment comes at a time that will certainly have repercussions for the future of the business.
There will be an impact of having large-scale casino projects underway elsewhere in the GTA, as well as a smaller one in Peterborough. Many of the Great Blue Heron's existing patrons make the drive from South Durham, Toronto and York Region, while others come from the Peterborough area.
Attracting those patrons from the south and west when there are larger and much closer options will be a big challenge - especially in the winter months when driving conditions in the area can be treacherous.
Casino Pickering - A Red Herring in the Works
The Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) went through a modernization process over the past several years, during which gaming bundles were established and bid out. All of the casinos in the GTA Gaming Bundle were designated as the ones outlined earlier in this article.
There was a heated public battle between the municipalities of Ajax and Pickering regarding the selection of a site within the South Durham area, which was designated to have only one casino site. Ajax Downs was the site considered for Ajax, and Durham Live (located adjacent to Highway 401 west of Chuch Street), an 80 hectare site was put forth by Pickering.
Ajax put forth a legal challenge at the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) to Pickering's approval of the Durham Live conceptual plan that was eventually dismissed by the OMB in July 2017, clearing the way for the project.
Ajax Downs (now Casino Ajax) was eventually selected as the site to move forward by OLG last September.
One thing that was explored in the modernization process was the potential for one more major casino in the GTA, provided that the OLG could establish an agreement with a willing and suitable municipality within the area.
GCG is now actively pursuing a plan to build a large resort casino within the Durham Live development, in conjunction with Pickering Developments. Of course, the OLG would have to approve such a plan, taking into consideration the proximity of other gaming sites in the area, the sharing of revenue between host communities and the province, and the willingness of local residents to accommodate such a large casino.
If this were to move forward, it could also make the possibility of a major casino in the downtown Toronto area nearly impossible, thereby taking tourism and gaming revenue for Toronto away.
With an election looming this June, there is potential for this plan to become a hot issue in Durham Region and, potentially, province-wide.