Finally, Gateway Casino build under way as gambling business 'spikes'

Saturday 11th January 2020

Buildings have been demolished, fencing is up and the site is being cleared.

Finally, after years of delays and negotiations, construction is underway on London's $75-million casino.

Work has begun on at the Wonderland Road South site of what will be the Starlight Casino, preparing it for the groundbreaking expected by month's end.

"I am so happy for all of London this is going forward and that Gateway had faith to stick it out for London. This is going to be very positive for the city," said Coun. Paul Van Meerbergen, who represents Ward 10.

"They are building this in a very smart way. I think Londoners will be very pleased with the outcome."

Owned and run by Gateway Casino and Entertainment, Starlight will employ about 1,000 and is expected to generate $7 million in revenue for the city -- $2.5 million from taxes and $4.5 million from the Ontario and Lottery Gaming Corp. -- when it opens.

It is scheduled to open in 2021.

The nearly 10,000-square-metre operation will include about 900 slot machines and 40 table games. When the new casino opens, slots and table games at the Western Fair will be shut down and workers transferred to the new site.

"London is our most ambitious site," said Rob Mitchell, Gateway spokesperson. "It has always been a priority. It is the home of our Ontario operation. It is a very ambitious investment."

The London casino will have "the glitz and glamour of a vintage Vegas casino, the same excitement and atmosphere," he added.

Gateway has recently taken down the last buildings remaining on the site from N-J Spivak Ltd., which operated a concrete business there. Gateway has also erected fencing and construction giant EllisDon has trailers on site.

Van Meerbergen believes the casino opening could see a spike in spin-off business for the area.

"It is a win-win on so many levels, such as employment and entertainment, and what I found appealing about their proposal is they are including families and family-friendly entertainment as part of the package," keeping dining and entertainment separate from gambling, said Van Meerbergen.

"This will bring people here who otherwise may not have come and they may make a weekend of it. It is all positive."

Gateway was in talks for a $140-million casino and hotel complex at Western Fair District for more than two years when, frustrated by the pace of talks, it moved to buy the Wonderland Road site, near Highway 401.

The initial application to rezone the site was denied at a city planning and environment committee, but later approved at city council, finally paving the way for the development.

"We have been enjoying a very co-operative relationship now with the city and building officials. We have a project manager from the city designated to our build," said Mitchell. "Things are going very smoothly."

In August Gateway announced it was adding table games at the Western Fair casino, including blackjack, baccarat, Mississippi stud and high-card flush, joining 750 slot machines.

"It was a very good year for us. Customers responded very well when we brought in gaming tables in London. There has been a spike in attendance," said Mitchell, declining to state how much attendance has increased.

"There is also a sense there a new casino is coming. Patrons are excited."

It has been a busy time for the British Columbia-based gambling giant. It opened Cascades Casino in Chatham last summer and is gearing up this month for a revamp of its Hiawatha Horse Park, a race track in Sarnia, adding slot machines to the horse racing. It also operates the Starlight Casino in Point Edward, near Sarnia.

"We do a weekly conference call to get a sense of what is happening in the market, and in general we have noticed a real uptick in business," said Mitchell.

"There has been a spike in attendance."

Starlight Casino, 3334 and 3354 Wonderland Rd. $75 million construction value $2.5 million city tax revenue annually 1,000 jobs, 300 of which are already in place $4.5 million in city revenue from Ontario Lottery Gaming Corp.

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