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Canadian border city casino marks 30 years | CBC News

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There has now been a casino in Windsor, Ont., for 30 years.

The temporary Casino Windsor, which was located in the renovated Art Gallery of Windsor, opened its doors to the public on May 17, 1994.

When it opened it was the first in Ontario and the first one run with a public private partnership in Canada.

There were long lines of people, mostly Americans, who waited hours to get it to play the slots or the gaming tables.

The exterior of Caesars Windsor casino resort. Photographed Nov. 14, 2023. (Dax Melmer/CBC)

Former NDP MPP Dave Cooke was municipal affairs minister for the Bob Rae NDP provincial government in 1992 when the treasury board and cabinet considered introducing casino gaming to Ontario.

Cooke recalls cabinet asked senior bureaucrats for a report which resulted in a suggestion for three pilot projects.

“At that point it was rejected because the majority did not to have casinos in Ontario,” said Cooke.

Former NDP MPP Dave Cooke convinced the provincial government to go ahead with casino gambling and along with help from Premier Bob Rae was able to bring it to Windsor.
Former NDP MPP Dave Cooke convinced the provincial government to go ahead with casino gambling and along with help from Premier Bob Rae was able to bring it to Windsor. (Dale Molnar/CBC)

But he said he was able to convince a number of ministers to change their minds and it was decided to open one casino, and open it in Windsor.

Former CAW Local 444 president Ken Lewenza recalls former local local president Larry Bauer working diligently with other community leaders to bring the casino in. Bauer passed away before the employees could become CAW members.

Lewenza took over as president and said the government did not stand in the union’s way in getting the employees to certify the union.

“And the union certification vote ended up being 98 per cent in favour of joining Local 444,” said Lewenza. 

That was a significant time in our local union as we were diversifying as a local union and we were creating a whole new gaming sector starting in Windsor.”

Former president of the Canadian Auto Workers Union, Ken Lewenza poses for a photo in Windsor, Ont., on Tuesday, June 12, 2018.
Former president of the Canadian Auto Workers Union, Ken Lewenza. He also served as president of the union’s local 444 in Windsor, Ont. (Geoff Robins/Canadian Press)

The casino proved to be so popular the province had to bring in the Northern Belle casino boat tin 1995 to handle all the demand.

The permanent Casino Windsor opened in 1998 on Riverside Drive and in 2008 it expanded west of McDougall Avenue with the new hotel tower, the Colosseum entertainment venue, ballrooms and the re-branding of Caesars Windsor.

At its peak, the casino employed about 3,500 people according to Lewenza.

A file photo of the entertainment venue at the casino called the Colosseum at Caesars Windsor.
A file photo of the entertainment venue at the casino called the Colosseum at Caesars Windsor. (Patrick Morrell/CBC)

Suzanne Tomkins, manager of public relations and communications, said the casino now employs 2,000 people.

She said the casino is marking the 30th anniversary with employees who are doing volunteer work.

“We just recently celebrated our hero days of action where we had two full days with our employee heroes going out and volunteering with over six organizations,” said Tomkins.

“Everything from serving meals to packing food hampers and working in food banks,” she said, adding the casino has contributed $16 million to local charities and organizations over the years.

The casino has also brought in hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue for the province as well as $92,317,774 for the city.

Tomkins said they are seeing more Canadian and American customers coming back after the pandemic closed their doors. She said they are innovating to keep up with the trends to online gambling by having an online Caesars gaming app as well.

“We opened a Sportsbook [sports betting] last year in 2023. We renovated our towers just a couple of years ago.”

A 30th anniversary mural has also been installed in the back of the house featuring pictures of employees over the years, according to Tomkins.

Multiple TVs play sports-related content.
A look inside Sportsbook at Caesars Windsor. (Dale Molnar/CBC)

But with the gaming has come with a spike in gambling addiction.

Diana Gabriele, a certified problem gambling counselor at Hotel-Dieu Grace Healthcare, said it has increased since the casino opened but she can’t estimate by how much. However, she said of the 200 or so clients they treat every year, about half come from the Windsor area.

And they have seen a 30 per cent increase in the last year.

“It’s diversified so much so that it’s become part of everyday life,” said Gabriele.

“People may not realize it, but gambling has been embedded in all our various types of media. It’s not just housed in brick and mortar anymore. It’s not just the casino, it’s online, it’s on social media,” she said, adding they have seen more people addicted to online gambling than to traditional casino gaming.

Slot machines are operating at Caesars Windsor, while table games are expected to begin next week, pending approval.
Slot machines on the gaming floor at Caesars Windsor. (Courtesy Caesars Windsor)

The casino has partnered with gambling addiction counselors to provide a department at the casino called the Play Smart Centre for people who feel they may need help. Tomkins said they are certified with RG Check, a Responsible Gambling Accreditation program through the Responsible Gambling Council.

“And we were one of the first casinos to be RG certified and we’re very proud of that part,” said Tomkins.

The Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) is currently involved in a process to select an operator for the casino. Neither Caesars Windsor nor the OLG will confirm if Caesars has applied to renew its contract. The OLG will also not say which other companies are in the running.

“However, we are pleased with progress we are making after launching the procurement process for the Windsor casino just over a year ago (April 2023) with a Request for Pre-Qualification (RFPQ),” said OLG spokesperson Tony Bitonti in an email. 

Caesars Windsor has a mural in the back of the house honouring employees who have worked there through the years.
Caesars Windsor has a mural in the back of the house honouring employees who have worked there through the years. (Caesars Windsor)

“We continue to work through the current Request for Proposal (RFP) phase and the pre-qualified proponents work on completing their bids for the opportunity in Windsor.” 

Bitonti did not offer an estimate as to when a final selection for a service provider would be made.

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