The return of slot machines to Hiawatha Horse Park is happening Jan. 30.
Gateway Casinos and Entertainment, set to operate the incoming 150 slot machines as Gateway Casinos Sarnia, is applying the finishing touches after recent renovations to the 6,700 square-metre (22,000 square-foot) gaming floor and other amenities at the racetrack casino, Gateway spokesperson Rob Mitchell said.
“We’re in the home stretch,” he said Wednesday, noting Gateway takes possession Friday of the space formerly occupied by the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Commission (OLG) at Hiawatha. Plans are to start installing the machines and acclimatize the roughly 60 staff before opening.
Gateway, Mitchell said, is leasing from Hiawatha Horse Park owner Jim Henderson, who called the return of slots to the racetrack “very exciting.” Four-hundred and fifty slot machines were removed in 2012 under the previous Ontario government.
In late 2018, Sarnia-Lambton MPP Bob Bailey announced 150 slot machines would be returning to the Sarnia track. Last May, Sarnia city council officially backed the plan.
The city has budgeted about $400,000 in slots revenue for 2020, based on the five per cent revenue-sharing agreement with municipalities.
Renovations, with undisclosed costs split between Gateway and OLG, have included installing surveillance cameras, infrastructure for attendants, food and beverage refrigeration and amenities, and heating and cooling systems, said Mitchell.
“Basically it’s a complete remodel,” he said. “The site has been vacant for eight years.”
Grand-opening festivities are also being planned, he said, but details haven’t been worked out yet.
Last-minute work includes installing IT systems, adding draft taps and refrigerators, as well as sinks and plumbing needed for the Express bar, a “signature” brand cocktail lounge also at some other Gateway casinos, and decorative finishings, Mitchell said.
The casino will be open seven days a week, from 9 a.m. to 1 a.m., he said.
Gateway in 2016 won the right to run casino gambling sites in Southwestern and northern Ontario, including the Starlight Casino in Point Edward.
The Sarnia site was not part of the original bid Gateway made for the “Southwest Gaming Bundle,” as it wasn’t a casino gaming facility at the time, Mitchell said.