Windsor's casino turns 20, faces fair share of challenges

The casino that opened 20 years ago has made one of the biggest economic impacts on this city since the auto industry began.
The Caesars branding added a hotel and entertainment centre. (CBC News)

Windsor's casino turns 20 years old today.

The casino has made one of the biggest economic impacts on this city since the auto industry began.

But Caesars Windsor faces challenges every day. It's not the cash cow it used to be

When Casino Windsor first opened its interim facility in the old Art Gallery of Windsor, people lined up around the block just to get in.

By the time the permanent casino opened in 1998, it employed 6,000 people. It was making $500 million a year.

Today, there are about 2,300 people working there and it takes in about half the money it did at its peak.

The casino has been hit with a non-smoking law, competition from three casinos in Detroit and one in Toledo, U.S. passport legislation and a stronger Canadian dollar.

To compete and differentiate itself, it added an entertainment facility and new hotel in 2007. The intent was to attract people with shows and conventions, which has happened. But revenues have still fallen.

The last couple of years have been stable but the challenges remain.

"When you're talking about four casinos from here to Ohio and three within a 25-mile radius in the United States alone competing directly with us, that becomes a very big challenge," Unifor Local 444 president Dino Chiodo said.

The casino has been unionized since it opened.

Unifor workers recently signed a four-year contract. The union, the casino and local MPs are still pushing the Senate to pass a single-event sports betting bill that has already cleared the House of Commons.

All involved are convinced the law will turn their fortunes around.

Even with the challenges, the casino continues to have a positive economic effect on Windsor. It gives to charities and sponsors for local events and the arts.

And when the Colosseum has a show it brings people downtown.

"On show nights, there's a tremendous influx of people and many of the restaurants and some of the shops are very busy," Downtown Windsor BIA chair Larry Horwitz said.

However, the downtown BIA is losing hundreds of thousands of dollars in a levy it used to get from the casino under an old agreement.

The casino is paying less in property tax than it used to, but it still pumps several millions of dollars into city coffers annually. A new hosting agreement with the province has also increased the city's take.

Coun. Fulvio Valentinis was on council when the casino came to town. He's confident it's not going anywhere.

"They've been creative in terms of adapting in terms of trying different things, so we're hopeful they'll be there for many years to come," he said.


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