Growth in GTA Gaming Concerns Falls

As Toronto approves expanded gaming at the city’s Woodbine Racetrack, officials in Niagara Falls are concerned that the move will siphon off its own business. Toronto Mayor John Tory (l.) says the plan means “jobs, jobs, jobs.”

Toronto Mayor John Tory is excited about a proposal approved by city council to expand gaming at the Woodbine Racetrack. Tory says it will create “jobs, jobs, jobs” in Canada’s biggest city. But officials in Niagara Falls fear the expansion would provide new, unwelcome and direct competition for its own two casinos.

Last Wednesday, Woodbine councilors voted in favor of the additions to the track in Rexdale, which has seen employment drop by 26 percent since 2005, the Toronto Star reports. It’s a turnabout from two years ago, when council rejected a proposal to bring a casino to the track, and also rejected a similar gaming hall in downtown Toronto.

Before the vote, Tory said he supports the plan because it would bring more employment to “an area that has been starved for jobs and opportunity for a long, long time.” The Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. has proposed increasing the number of slot machines from 2,700 to 5,000 and adding 120 gaming tables, such as blackjack, craps and roulette, the Star reported. OLG is now looking for an operator.

Council member and former Toronto mayor Rob Ford, who has had well-publicized bouts with addiction, said gambling can become compulsive for some. “There are problems with gambling, but then you have problems with alcohol, there’s problems with cigarettes, there’s problems with food, you’ve got to have control in life,” said Ford.

Niagara Casinos spokesman Greg Medulun told the Niagara Falls Review that more than 50 percent of its casinos’ 8 million annual customers come from the Greater Toronto area. “In this hyper-competitive gaming market, the only thing that could potentially mitigate the loss of business resulting from GTA expansion would be the construction of a 5,000- to 7,000-seat entertainment center that is built connected to Fallsview Casino Resort,” he said. Officials in the Falls are waiting for OLG to issue a request for proposal to develop a planned 7,000-seat performance arena.

Niagara Casinos is the region’s No. 1 employer, employing 4,500 people, reported the Review.

“While we are working towards building the entertainment side of things to complement gaming, other communities are farther ahead,” said Dolores Fabiano, executive director of the Niagara Falls Chamber of Commerce. “We do still have that world-recognized address, but when it comes to gaming, any additional gaming in Ontario would have an impact.”

Falls Management Company operates the two casinos in Niagara Falls on behalf of the province.