Table games at Woodbine not such a bad idea
With the plan for a fabulous new casino in the GTA all but dead, Woodbine is once again looking like an attractive dance partner to the OLG.
Woodbine’s 3,000 slot machines have always been the best earners of any slot location in the province, which was of zero value to the OLG when it was under the spell of former chair Paul Godfrey and the gaming operators chasing a casino deal.
Godfrey would cheerfully have closed Woodbine’s slots if Toronto city council had gone along with the OLG’s casino plan; he had already killed the program that shared revenue from the 20,000 slots in Ontario tracks with the racing industry.
When it became a political firestorm in rural Ontario, the government backtracked and canned Godfrey, blaming him for talking them into it. The Liberals have since restored some of the money it stole from racing, hoping to mitigate the political damage.
Now that the dust has settled, Woodbine is not such an ugly duckling. Its management pleaded for the new casino to be built on its grounds at Highway 427 and Rexdale Blvd., which would have been an easier sell to city council.
But the big shooters bet their wad on the waterfront or downtown and busted out, which leaves us exactly where we were when the fantasy began: with a huge slot parlour at Woodbine that is a full-sized casino in all but name.
Anyone who understands the gaming business knows casinos exist only to pull people into the slots, the most ruthless and efficient way to part fools from their money.
Everything else – resorts, restaurants, retailers, concert venues, even table games – are nothing more than lipstick on a pig, meant to soften the truth and attract suckers who wouldn’t otherwise set foot in a casino and play the slots.
Compared to slots, table games – blackjack, roulette, baccarat, poker – are nowhere near as profitable, but they attract customers who don't like slots.
My friend Dave Nickle reported in the Mirror and Guardian community newspapers that Councillor Doug Ford is trying to drum up support at city council for a motion to ask the OLG to bring in table games at Woodbine.
It's more likely the OLG asked Ford to float the idea than the other way around, but it has to start at council.
After council turned down a casino in May, two-thirds of councillors must vote in favour of re-opening the issue, which may be a long shot, but is far more palatable than the downtown casino plan.
Woodbine already has dozens of electronic or “virtual” table games such as roulette, baccarat and blackjack, and even an 11-table poker room. They’re so busy on weekends that it is hard to get a seat.
I was always dead-set against a downtown casino, but less so if the plan had been to build it at Woodbine.
Since both proposals are dead, real table games to go along with the slots already at the racetrack seems a reasonable idea; Woodbine is a de facto casino anyway.
Why make people who want to play blackjack or poker in a game where the dealer is a person, instead of virtual, drive or ride a bus to Niagara Falls or Rama?
If they put in a 50-table poker room with real dealers, and spread whatever games the customers want, and at any stakes, I can tell you for sure it would be one of the most jumpin’ card joints in North America.
Table games would create hundreds of new jobs for dealers and supervisory staff, earn the city a small amount of additional income and cause barely a ripple of resistance.
If we didn’t already have 3,000 slots in the city, it might be different. But we do, and we'll never get rid of them, so I don’t see a poker room and 100 or so tables for other games as a big deal.