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Northern casino plan slowed, not stalled: OLG

“Absolutely — we've been continuing since Day 1,” Bitonti said. “This is a major, provincewide initiative. People think it's just affecting their community, but it's a major undertaking provincewide. It does take time.
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After Premier Kathleen Wynne took office, the Slots at Racetracks program was not reinstated, but casino developers were instructed to include horse tracks in their bids for new casinos built under the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp.'s modernization strategy. File photo
“Absolutely — we've been continuing since Day 1,” Bitonti said.

“This is a major, provincewide initiative. People think it's just affecting their community, but it's a major undertaking provincewide. It does take time.”

Announced in spring 2012 with much fanfare, and an ambitious schedule, the initial plan was to issue the RFP before the end of 2012. But with the uproar that followed the cancellation of the Racetracks at Slots program, and Kathleen Wynne becoming premier in 2013, the process slowed considerably.

Money for horse racing — $500 million — was found, although no deal was reached to keep racing at Sudbury Downs. New leadership was brought in at the OLG, and casino proponents were told to include horseracing in their bids.

Qualified bidders have been shortlisted, Bitonti said, and the RFP is almost ready to go. So, when will it be issued?

“The only update I really have for you is that instead of saying in the coming months, I can say in the coming weeks,” he said.

“They're keeping everything pretty close to the vest. Because of the integrity of the whole process, they don't want anyone to get a leg up on anything.”

There is still strong interest in bidding on the northern gaming bundle, he said, although the identity of the bidders is not being made public.

“There's a lot of interest out there,” Bitonti said. “But this is not like golf. There's no mulligans to the modernization process. You have to get it right the first time.”

The RFP for eastern region was issued in April. There's no deadline in place for bids, he said. Instead, proponents are working with OLG staff to finalize their bids, a process that will take as long as it takes, he said. While they wanted to be much further ahead by now, Bitonti said they're learning as they go.

“Every time we went through one of the steps, we learned something from it,” he said. “It's an evolution. This is the first time this has been done. So we're learning from this process, too.”

Darren MacDonald

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