I'm mostly out of the loop when it comes to news about my hometown of Windsor, but there's usually not a lot anyway. However, I was surprised to read that Casino Windsor had announced a $400-million expansion back in February. The expansion doesn't include new gambling space, but does add another 400 hotel rooms, a 5,000-seat auditorium/theatre, and 100,000 feet of convention space.
Revenues at Casino Windsor have been hit hard since 9/11. The idea behind the expansion is to lure more visitors with these new attractions, particularly in competition with the Detroit casinos. 80% of the Casino Windsor visitors come from across the border, mostly within a short drive. For those who have a stake in Casino Windsor, it must be scary to think of Washington's coming requirement for passports at the Canada-US border.
When Ontario opened its first casino, it was financially smart in choosing Windsor. When the original casino opened (in space they acquired by relocating the Art Gallery to the mall), there were line-ups of Americans that stretched for blocks. Such was the scarcity of legal gambling at the time.
The promise of economic growth downtown was never met. Instead, downtown Windsor is mainly home to bars catering to 19- and 20-year-old Detroit-area kids (although the Art Gallery has returned in a nice new building). The casino brought jobs, but no spill-over business.
The financial success of Casino Windsor was driven by its scarcity, but that scarcity could not continue. After years of resisting, the evidence of Casino Windsor's drawing power was the tipping point in Detroit. There are now three casinos in Detroit, and plans for expansions. Even Ohio might be next.
It is ironic to consider that Bob Rae and his NDP government are responsible for a chain of events that has led to legalized casino gambling almost everywhere. Perhaps it was inevitable, but their decision in Windsor was the kick start.
Casino Windsor has been a surreal addition to the Windsor landscape, and it has generally been a mix of success and failure. However -- again ironically, given its origins -- its main success has been in the financial ledgers of the government of Ontario.