Two casinos in Ontario have been entangled in a long-running feud. The provincial government has now given the go-ahead for them to exist in tandem.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford was strongly in favor of this move, which will allow both casinos to operate just five miles from one another. The settlement ends a feud between rival municipalities in eastern Toronto that had been battling to gain an edge over the sector’s gambling industry.
The move comes after an agreement in principle was reached, allowing the Ajax Downs casino to stay open, although its rules will be revisited by the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG).
Ajax Downs will compete with the mega-casino that is planned for Pickering, the municipality next door.
Gambling in Ontario
Ontario is the largest province in Canada with a population of about 14 million. Because there are several successful sports teams in the province, sports betting is a popular pursuit.
The Criminal Code determines on the federal level what type of gambling is allowed. However, each province has the ultimate control over gambling in its jurisdiction.
The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) is the primary gaming regulator in Ontario. It regulates the OLG, state lotteries, online gambling, and sports betting.
There are 25 casinos or slots locations operating in the province. These are all managed in some way by the OLG, which also runs ten land-based casinos.
Other casinos are owned by private parties, such as Caesar’s Windsor. Some of the racetracks in Ontario operate slots and table games. There are also multiple tribal casinos in the province; the Chippewas of Rama First Nation operate the main one.
There have been extensive plans to increase the number of casinos in the province. An additional twelve casinos were planned, but this was not popular with many local councils.
The OLG runs the only fully legal online gambling platform in the province. Called PlayOLG, it offers a variety of casino games, slots, and table games.
Offshore online gambling platforms are popular with residents. They are not exactly legal or illegal. Platforms that are licensed somewhere in the world are usually permitted, and players will not be prosecuted for using these sites.
Casinos in the works
The Great Canadian Gaming Corporation, based in Vancouver, runs both of the casinos in East Toronto that were involved in the dispute.
The OLG awarded this company a contract in 2017 to run these operations. The company announced in January that it wanted to move the Ajax Downs casino to Pickering.
This led the Mayor of Ajax to argue that there is enough space for two casinos in the market because different types of experiences are offered. As part of the settlement, the Casino Ajax cut down from 800 slots to 500.
Plans for the new Durham live casino call for 2,700 slot machines and more than 1,000 table games, along with multiple entertainment facilities and a hotel.
The people of Ajax have welcomed the peace agreement that will allow their casino to continue to operate, which will help with the local economy and jobs. They benefit by about $7.5m (£5.7m) annually from the casino. Ajax Downs also operates the only quarter horse racing property in the province, which employs about 1,700 people.
Durham has also welcomed the announcement that the mega-casino will be going ahead. It is forecast that more than 10,000 jobs will eventually be created through this new project.
In the past, as per the OLG rules, there was to be only a single casino allowed in the suburbs of east Toronto. However, they have done a U-turn and talked about how they have “created a new gaming zone in the GTA, as permitted under existing agreements, to accommodate the retention of slot operations at Casino Ajax.”
The OLG believes this will be a commercially viable project in the province. Under this new deal, the Ajax casino will keep its doors open until 2026. It will then have an option to stay open for an additional 12 years. Not many other details, such as any costs of this agreement for Ajax Downs, have been revealed.
Locals in both Pickering and Ajax are relieved that this battle has finally concluded. Now they can both benefit from these casinos and the employment opportunities they offer.