Gateway Receives London OK Amidst Job Cut Backlash

It is a bittersweet time for Gateway Casinos and Entertainment in Canada. On one hand, the company can celebrate its approval to build its $75 million casino project in South London, Ontario. The Starlight Casino has been in the works since 2017 but faced roadblocks until this week.

On the other hand, Gateway recently laid off dozens of employees. Backlash has increased, not only from casinos hardest hit, like Casino Rama, but from Unifor, Canada’s largest gaming and private sector union.

Gateway Casinos and Entertainment Changes Plans

For several years, Gateway Casinos and Entertainment had been pushing for the building of a casino project in the area. It started with a $140 million hotel and casino complex originally slated for the Western Fair District.

Land negotiations continued to run into immovable obstacles, so Gateway recently redesigned its entire plan into a proposal for Wonderland Road in South London. The area was called the “apex of the busiest trade corridor on the planet” by a member of the London Chamber of Commerce.

Starlight Casino would apparently cost $75 million to build and employ 700 people. The 9,290-square meter location would include restaurants, bars, and a casino with 900 slot machines and 40 table games.

City Council Concerns Turn to Support

Just a few weeks ago, the London City Council was unsure if it would approve the Gateway project.

London Mayor Ed Holder wanted the vote conducted quickly so as not to lose out on the opportunity for the casino. However, some felt the proposal and scheduled vote was rushed. Others, meanwhile, maintained more serious concerns that needed to be addressed.

Councilwoman Anna Hopkins wanted answers to specific questions. She wanted to know what would happen to the Western Fair District if the casino there closed and relocated. She inquired about the implications of changing the Southwest Area Plan. And she believed that the residents in surrounding areas were not informed enough about the project.

First Nations also expressed concerns about the new project’s proximity to three indigenous reserves. Those communities had real worries about human trafficking and other potential social impacts.

Despite those concerns, however, Holder pushed for a vote this week and received a favourable one. The City Council voted 9-to-4 to allow the project to go forward. However, there was also an 11-to-2 vote to coordinate further with First Nations communities.

One of the First Nations, Oneida Nation on the Thames, had specific concerns. Chief Jessica Hill told the City Council of its “competing interests with all future development.” She also added:

“We heard the mayor say that it was inappropriate and unnecessary to consult with us. That was one of the disheartening things I heard from the city.”

Gateway Faces B.C. Backlash

Meanwhile, in British Columbia, Gateway is facing opposition of a different sort.

Recently, the company laid off 65 full-time and five part-time employees at Casino Rama. Not only was that a problem in itself, but Gateway had committed to no layoffs during the first year of operation and did this on the first day after that year was over.

Unifor President Jerry Dias called out the company for its move. He asserted that Gateway replaced those laid-off employees with “precarious” employment situations. He accused Gateway of benefiting from the privatization of Ontario and BC casinos.

Further, Unifor is angry at the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) for its partnerships with Gateway. Specifically, in the form of the 2018 deal that put Gateway in charge of the Central Gaming Bundle. That deal included Casino Rama, as well as Georgian Downs and a new project in Wasaga Beach, on top of previously-awarded deals for the North and Southwest Gaming Bundles.

Dias accused Gateway of taking advantage of the deals and the industry but now showing its true colours with the job cuts.

Gateway, however, said the layoffs would increase efficiency. Some layoffs were due to new technology reducing the need for as many employees. Others, he said, were due to people leaving via voluntary exit programs or chosing staff reassignments.

Unifor contests that reasoning, per Dias’ statement: “We do not accept the employer’s attempts to reduce the bargaining unit membership and will therefore take immediate action.”

There is a meeting between union officials and Gateway Casinos management set for August 6 to address recent employment decisions and the union’s concerns.

Jennifer Newell

Jennifer Newell

Jennifer Newell has been writing about poker and gambling since 2004. From her days in the WPT offices to covering summers of WSOP tournament action, she also followed gambling legislation to Washington D.C. and women-only poker to the Bahamas. Meanwhile, she lived in Los Angeles and Las Vegas for many years before moving back to her hometown of St. Louis, Missouri. Now, Jen travels less, writing about poker and online gambling from her home with her two dogs watching her every move. In her spare time, she follows politics, works on her never-finished novels, and learns Italian in the hopes of retiring to Italy someday.

If you want to know more, you can follow Jen on Twitter @WriterJen

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