Gateway Casinos seeks more bang for its buck at the Western Fair District
Company says new lease would clear way for massive expansion; councillor Squire wants more details
Gateway Casinos & Entertainment says the rent at the Western Fair District is too high, and that they want to negotiate a cheaper lease after the current agreement expires in 2020.
Spokesperson Rob Mitchell said they're currently paying a little over $6 million a year, an agreement that is "well in excess of market value" for the area.
"It's a question of good business sense," he said.
"You wouldn't stay in an apartment with an exorbitant rent when you can better manage your finances and your lifestyle moving to the location that was more convenient to you that offered you more amenities."
Mitchell said that a cheaper lease would allow Gateway to invest $140-million in building a new facility three times the size of the current casino. The new facility would also feature more restaurant options, amenities and even a small hotel, he said.
In exchange, the expansion would have economic benefits for the city through higher property and commercial taxes and the sourcing of local goods and services, said Mitchell.
He said the expansion would also bring 700 new jobs for Londoners.
"All of this is good for the city," he said.
But even if Gateway doesn't get the agreement it's looking for, Mitchell said the brand would still plan to spend the $140-million on a London casino — it would just be elsewhere in the city.
"We will continue to build a brand-new facility in the city of London," he said.
More details, please
Coun. Phil Squire said he's neither for nor against Gateway's proposal, but wants to see more specific numbers on how the casino would make up for municipal revenue lost through a lower lease payments.
"I know we'll be getting tax revenue, there'll be jobs, but I'm not sure what the spinoff will be from the casino because casinos are usually pretty self-contained in terms of what they deliver," Squire said, who noted that he was in Atlantic City recently and didn't see much activity even two blocks away from the casinos.
Squire also said he's unsure about whether the current leasing agreement is truly in excess of market value, since a casino is a unique entity that can't be easily compared to a restaurant or a shop.
He's also withholding judgment as to whether Gateway can really expand to three times its current size.
"People come to city hall all the time and say, 'Here's a drawing of a building I'm going to build and it's going to be this many storeys,'" said Squire.
"Well, that's really just an artist's rendition, it hasn't been approved, it hasn't been financed, so you really don't know what the final thing is going to look like."
Squire added that he would also be interested in whether the casino would contribute to problem gambling treatment in the city.
The current lease was privately discussed today at the city's corporate services planning committee meeting.
Coun. Jesse Helmer, who sits on the corporate services committee, said he could not comment on whether a decision had been made around the lease.