The Central Ontario Standardbred Association (COSA) and Ontario Racing are both speaking out against Gateway Casinos’ decision to relocate a planned casino from the Western Fair to southwest London.
In a joint statement, both organizations said the move will take away funding that helps support local harness racing.
“We were very disappointed with Gateway’s decision and the effect it will have on racing in the London area,” said COSA president Bill O’Donnell.
“Western Fair has submitted a formal request to the government indicating the support required to continue racing at Western Fair. We solidly support this request and are optimistic it will be honoured given the Ford government’s very vocal support of the restoration of the slots at racetrack program and horse racing.”
Last week, Gateway Casinos and Entertainment announced it had signed a lease for a new complex on Wonderland Road near Wharncliffe Road, leaving behind its plans for a $140-million development at the Western Fair District and starting from “ground zero.”
“The Raceway at Western Fair has been a solid citizen and integral piece of the fabric of the community for decades,” said Ontario Racing chair John Hayes.
“With a broad offering that extends beyond horse racing, The Raceway, its employees, the horse people and community at large face a very uncertain future.”
Little more than a year ago, Gateway Casinos unveiled plans to London city council for a premium brand development at the Western Fair District, which included a hotel with 125 rooms, four hotels, expanded slot operations, and a promise of 700 new jobs for the city.
But in an interview last week, the private casino operator said they have been frustrated by slow-moving negotiations involving city hall and the Western Fair District.
“We’ve been at this for quite some time now, and we expected to have shovels in the ground about a year ago or longer,” said Gateway spokesperson Rob Mitchell.
“There just seems to be a series of issues that kept arising at the fairgrounds, last of which was an archeological study that revealed there’d been a church and a cemetery that required remediation.”
Gateway has been running the slot operations at the Western Fair District since 2017. The current lease costs the company more than $6 million a year and is set to expire in 2020.
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