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OLG selects gaming operator for area that includes Grand River Raceway

New operator - On Dec. 19 the OLG selected a new gaming operator for the “West GTA,” which includes the slots facility at the Grand River Raceway in Elora.  Photo by Kelly Waterhouse

OLG selects gaming operator for area that includes Grand River Raceway

by Chris Daponte

ELORA - The Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) has selected a private gaming operator for the region that includes the slots facility at Grand River Raceway here.

On Dec. 19, OLG announced  that a partnership between Great Canadian Gaming Corporation and Clairvest Group Inc. will operate its “West GTA gaming bundle,” which also includes Casino Brantford and slots at Flamboro Downs in Hamilton and at Mohawk Raceway in Campbellville.

Great Canadian (55% ownership) and Clairvest Group (45%)will take over the Brantford casino and the lease agreements at the three slot facilities.

The partnership is expected to sign a 20-year agreement with the OLG and assume day-to-day operations at each of the facilities in the spring.

“We’re quite pleased,” said Jamie Martin, director of operations at Grand River Raceway.

“We believe that ... ultimately this will be great for horse racing here at Grand River Raceway.”

OLG spokesman Tony Bitonti said he could not disclose financial details of the procurement process, nor the identity/number of other bidders.

The OLG plan allows the addition of dozens of gaming tables at slot sites, but any expansions or changes will be up to the new operator. In March Centre Wellington council approved zoning and official plan amendments that would pave the way for expansion at the Elora raceway.

Great Canadian president and CEO Rod Baker suggested in a Dec. 19 press release that expansion is likely at all four of the facilities in the “West GTA” gaming bundle.

“We are excited to undertake what we feel will be a dramatic transformation of the entertainment experience at these four properties, for the teams that work there, and the communities they reside in,” Baker stated.

Martin, much like his predecessor Dr. Ted Clarke, said he would welcome expansion of the Grand River Raceway, including the addition of gaming tables.

“Ultimately, what we would like to see is [the operator] be successful so we can be successful - and if expansion is part of that, then that’s great,” Martin said.

Bitonti noted that for expansion to occur, the operator “must present a viable business case to OLG and receive required approvals.”

In Elora, the OLG’s seven-year lease at the Grand River Raceway expires in March 2020. The new operator could technically move the slots facility at that time - and some locals have feared just that - but Bitonti has said a move is unlikely.

“Before a service provider can relocate a gaming site, it must present a viable business case to OLG and receive required approvals,” he said.

“The new host municipality and the Government of Ontario must also approve a proposed relocation of a gaming site.”

In a press release, Baker stated Great Canadian “appreciate(s) the significance and importance of the harness racing industry provincially, but more particularly, across the West GTA region.”

He added the company wants to play a role “in working with track operators, racing stakeholders, OLG, the ... government and other ... parties in sustaining the industry and growing the number of jobs the industry supports.”

Martin classified discussions with Great Canadian during the bidding process as “positive” and said resigning a lease will benefit both the operator and the race track.

“We’re hoping to sign a long-term arrangement that solidifies the horse racing industry at Grand River Raceway,” he said.

For now, it will be “business as usual” in Elora - until the new operator takes over in the spring, Martin added.

The OLG press release states current employees at the four West GTA facilities will “transfer to the new service provider,” which must retain employees for at least a year in their current position/location, as well as provide benefits and a pension plan to eligible employees.

Bitonti noted the payment formula for municipal hosts will remain unchanged under the new operator, as “payments will be made by OLG, not the service provider.”

He also stressed that when the new operator takes over OLG will continue to:

- conduct and manage gaming in the bundle;

- require compliance with Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario rules;

- own “key player information”; and

- uphold the standards of its Responsible Gambling program through the service provider.

Great Canadian is a B.C.- based company that operates gaming, entertainment and hospitality facilities in Canada and the U.S. Clairvest Group is a private equity investor based in Toronto.

December 22, 2017


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