Gateway Throws in the Towel on Western Fair Casino

No casino at Western Fair District; Gateway buys property on Wonderland Road for new London casino.

No Casino at Western Fair District – Gateway Buys Property on Wonderland RoadIn December 2016, seventeen long years after the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp (OLG) first began leasing the construct that houses slot machines at London’s Western Fair District, Gateway Casinos & Entertainment became the proud new manager of the now-two-decades old gaming facility. At that time, it was believed that Gateway would expand the property, building a full-fledged casino, along with the hotel and additional dining options.

Two years later, it’s finally been determined that Gateway will not get such an opportunity. There will be no casino at Western Fair District. Negotiations between Gateway, London, WFD owners, and OLG—which have moved along at a snails pace at best for more than a year—have officially ended. With no affable lease agreement in sight, Gateway casinos has confirmed the acquisition of a property along Wonderland Road where a new London casino is to be built.

No Casino at Western Fair District

As most Canadians know, WFD is the site of the 150 year old annual fair and agricultural show that takes place every September. Since its humble beginnings,. The location has grown into a year-round historical, amusement, and entertainment complex, complete with museums, an IMAX theater, and of course gambling via slot machines and the iconic Western Fair Raceway, opened in 1961.

When Gateway took over the day-to-day managerial duties of OLG Slots at WFD, regulators had already given verbal acquiescence to the expansion of a Western Fair Casino. It was, quite obviously, the reason Gateway was so interested in taking over the operation. But the owners of the property, from which OLG has been leasing the slot machine quarters since 1999, and the city of London itself, had a different idea.

Although they spent months assuring Gateway that a better lease agreement could be achieved, and that the necessary zoning requirements would be fulfilled in a timely fashion, their convictions lacked evidence. As they say, the proof is in the pudding, but for Gateway, the pudding never came to the table.

OLG has been paying $6 million per year to the city and property owners. Since taking over the operation in December 2016, Gateway has been paying that bill. The lease agreement expires in 2020, and the casino corporation refuses to build a casino at WFD—something that would do wonders for the site’s revenue—unless a cheaper lease can be negotiated.

WFD CEO Hugh Mitchell argues the payments are necessary to keep horse racing alive. Gateway contends the casino and hotel will keep horse racing alive by attracting many more visitors. But now, without Gateway’s help, WF Raceway may lose both the casino deal and its exorbitant lease contract.

Gateway Buys Property for New London Casino

Multiple times in the last 12 months, Gateway has warned that it does not need to expand into a Western Fair Casino. The company could just as easily purchase land elsewhere to build a new casino in London; land that is already properly zoned for such activities. The city scoffed, thinking this an empty threat. Until now…

It was confirmed last month that Gateway has secured a lease for a parcel along Wonderland Road, “near the intersection with Wharncliffe Road”, says Gateway spokesman Rob Mitchell. He offered no specific details on the casino to come, like whether it would include the originally intended hotel accommodations. But he made it clear that there will be no casino at Western Fair District.

WFD’s Hugh Mitchell says the decision is disappointing, but that it’s too early to “really determine the ultimate impact” it will have on Western Fair Raceway. “Never a door closes where another one doesn’t open. We’ll handle this news. We’re an organization that’s been around for 100 years, and we’ve had our share of adversity over the years.”

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