On Monday, April 15, the City of Toronto's executive committee kicked off its marathon two-day hearing into the divisive casino expansion issue, which could ultimately lead to Woodbine Racetrack being upgraded to a full casino in the future.
As the proceedings took place inside Toronto City Hall, members of the Ontario horse-racing industry let their feelings be known outside, as a rally spearheaded by the Central Ontario Standardbred Association showed up with strong numbers.
Inside, Hall of Fame thoroughbred jockey Sandy Hawley addressed the committee, as did Woodbine Entertainment Group CEO Nick Eaves and COSA President Bill O'Donnell.
"I thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today on the importance of your support for a full casino at Woodbine Racetrack," O'Donnell told the committee.
"On the horsepeople's side of the racing industry, we're are seeing participants such as owners, trainers and backstretch employees, suppliers, veterinarians, blacksmiths, tack shops --- you name it --- either leaving the industry or withdrawing their investment in Ontario," he said. "Some people are moving out of the province to the United States where they have a better chance to earn a living in the racing industry. Other industry participants that have not been as fortunate to be able to relocate to other thriving American jurisdictions are now losing their homes and farms and will be facing bankruptcy in the near future, if not already."
"The Ontario horse-racing industry needs a full casino at Woodbine," O'Donnell said, adding that the province's horse-racing future is still currently in jeopardy because there is no plan beyond the two-year transitional funding agreement, which is currently in place on the WEG circuit.
"We have a secure anchor, with our gaming and racing operations, to move forward with our development opportunities. With the casino, we can move forward with an integrated entertainment complex," Jane Holmes, WEG's VP of corporate affairs, told the committee.
Holmes --- who stated that Woodbine Racetrack has more than an ample amount of parking to accommodate gaming expansion --- would not speculate as to what financial state Woodbine Racetrack would be in in five years if it does not land casino expansion.
"Five years is very hard to project out," said Holmes, who did say that WEG is committed to its live racing product, regardless of whether or not it lands gaming expansion.
"One of the things is that we have, obviously, had discussions with many of the operators (casino gaming operators). We believe that we have the ability to bring in the skill set to operate it (a casino), but that is a decision of the province. We may have to partner with somebody. Our concern is that there is a sufficient revenue share that Woodbine can reinvest back into horse racing because that is our core business. So, for us, it is all about our core business and maintaining horse racing."
Later in the afternoon, WEG issued a press release on the situation, which is as follows:
City Hall Rally Says 'Yes' To A Casino At Woodbine
As the City of Toronto Executive Committee met today to consider potential casino locations in Toronto, about 150 people rallied outside City Hall in a show of support for a casino at Woodbine Racetrack. The rally was joined by horse-racing legend Sandy Hawley, Woodbine track announcer Dan Loiselle, and Nick Eaves, President and CEO of Woodbine Entertainment Group.
The recent City Staff report on casinos in Toronto recommends that City Council consent to expansion of the current slots facilities at Woodbine to include live table games in zone C2 --- an idea that a majority of Torontonians support, according to the city’s own polling.
The 150-plus employees and supporters of Woodbine Entertainment Group came from throughout the GTA to let City Council know that a casino at Woodbine is good for jobs, good for the horse racing industry, and good for Toronto.
“We’re here to applaud the Staff Report’s recommendation and share our enthusiasm for a Woodbine casino with the city,” said Nick Eaves. “A casino at Woodbine, operated by Woodbine Entertainment Group, will create much-needed jobs in Rexdale and help ensure the sustainability of horse racing in Ontario, which supports more than 55,000 jobs in the province.”
Important facts about a casino at Woodbine:
- The City Staff Report recommends expanding the current 3,000-slots OLG facility at Woodbine Racetrack to include live dealer gaming, supporting already-approved plans for the area as an urban entertainment and retail destination.
- Woodbine is the major employer in Rexdale, generating 7,500 jobs in Toronto. A fully integrated entertainment/gaming complex at Woodbine would create another 4,000 full-time equivalent jobs in construction and 1,600 jobs in ongoing operations.
- According to a City of Toronto poll conducted by Environics, a majority (55%) of Torontonians support expanded gaming at Woodbine Racetrack.
- The report estimates that a casino at Woodbine would return nearly $50 million in combined hosting fees and property taxes.