The long, tortuous process of bringing a full-fledged casino has finally moved forward, with word from the Ontario Lottery Corporation that it's moving closer to picking a winning bidder.
OLG spokesperson Tony Bitonti said Wednesday they have issued the request for proposals to the three to five companies that have qualified to participate in the process.
"For the north and southwest, we're estimating approximately 17 to 18 months, from the issuing of the RFP to the first day the new operator, will begin running the sites," Bitonti said.
"We expect to make the announcement of the successful service provider in early 2017. But from the issuing of the RFP to Day 1 of running it, it will probably be 17 to 18 months."
Since the process began in 2012, the OLG has issued a request for interest (RFI), to gauge how much interest there was in operating a casino here, and a request for pre-qualification (RFPQ) to determine which of the companies that expressed interest have the experience and track record to actually finance and operate a casino operation.
"We're big on acronyms here at the OLG,” Bitonti joked.
The winning bidder has to agree to take over existing OLG operations in the northern gaming bundle – Thunder Bay, Sault Ste. Marie – building new casinos in Kenora and North Bay, as well as take over the lease at Sudbury Downs.
"The RFP stage is really the last stage before we choose one group or company to run the day-to-day operations of each gaming bundle," Bitonti said.
The RFPQ stage was the lengthiest, and he said it was important that each potential bidder be vetted to ensure they have the means to open and operate each gaming site.
“We wanted to make sure everything they said was on the up and up,” Bitonti said. "We want to know your financial and technical experiences and expertise, your capability for building new facilities, proof of how successful you are in running casinos and that type of thing, too.”
The shortlist is between three and five, but Bitonti said he couldn't be more specific "because of the competitive nature of the procurement process.
"Now we're at the stage where we're going to issue an RFP — basically we're going to invite them to participate in that final step before we choose a service provider."
The OLG expects the winning bidder will buy the Thunder Bay and Sault Casinos from the OLG. Whoever it is will have the right to operate a full casino at Sudbury Downs, Bitonti said. Whether they remain at the Chelmsford site or build a facility of there own is up to them.
"They will determine what they want to do on those sites," he added. "When they take over, they can upgrade the facilities, if they wish they can relocate, provided they get the proper municipal and provincial approvals.
"They could stay there, it really is up to them and their business plan. But again, if there are any decisions to relocate, there has to be a three-party agreement — the city, the service (provider) and the OLG, and the final approval has to come from the Government of Ontario."
While the previous city council passed a motion in 2012 backing a casino for Sudbury, the current council has not taken a formal stand on the issue. Bitonti said if the mood has changed, the city has a right to withdraw from the casino process.
"We respect the wishes of the municipality," he said.
"For example, Kingston voted yes, they were willing to host a casino ... then another council came in and said no. And they had a referendum, the majority voted no and that was it. So we respect the decisions of the municipality."