WARMINGTON: Casino controversy heats up in Ajax

By: Joe Warmington (Toronto Sun)

AJAX — Don’t look now, but while the Liberal government hints at closing down Casino Ajax, there’s a new development proposal that could throw a wrinkle into already agreed upon plans.

Whoever forms the next provincial government, may receive a second massive casino development plan beyond the Durham Live project already proposed for a spot,  south of Hwy. 401, in Pickering.

And guess where that newly-proposed project would go? On the very grounds where Ajax Downs and the current slots and off-track betting location sit.

It’s a game changer. Prior to this news, it seemed like it would be all systems go for the massive Durham Live casino and entertainment project which would result in the closure of Casino Ajax, situated just off Hwy. 2 for the last 13 years.

“There is actually more land at the current site already zoned to do that,” Rod Phillips, the PC candidate for Ajax, told me. “But by putting together a proposal, it allows for there to be an apples to apples comparison for the public.”

Things heated up last month when a cabinet minister in Premier Kathleen Wynne’s government “let the cat out of the bag” that the Ajax casino would close as part of the new deal with Great Canadian Gaming that would see a new major casino built in Pickering.

“We were told no decision had been made,” said Ajax Mayor Steve Parish.

Then came a letter posted to Facebook last week from Joe Dickson, the Liberal MPP for the area, who said he will “fight to ensure” Ajax Downs is “supported by our Liberal government,” that no “OLG worker at Ajax Downs loses their job in the transition” and if it closes, he promised to  “advocate for revenue-sharing with Ajax and/or the Durham Region as a whole.”

These words did not go over well.

“Joe Dickson apparently confirms the Liberal government’s intention to shut down Ajax Downs and devastate Ontario’s quarter-horse industry,” wrote Phillips. “Sadly, we knew this was coming last month when Agriculture and Rural Affairs Minister Jeff Leal told a Peterborough newspaper that the Liberal government was going to remove the slots at Ajax Downs.”

An angry Parish tweeted “Joe Dickson has given up by writing a two-page letter to prepare us for imminent announcement that the Ajax casino will close. Well Ajax Council is not giving up!” Part of that fight will be to present a full casino and entertainment project to rival the one in the Pickering plan.

Phillips, a former chair of Postmedia and past president of the Ontario Gaming and Lottery Corp., stands 100% behind maintaining Casino Ajax.

“With all of Ajax Downs advantages — easier access to the 401, a fully supportive town council at the heart of quarter-horse racing — we need to ensure the public and the OLG know the benefits of an expanded site,” Phillips said Sunday. 

If you are a betting person, it’s a safe wager that the casino will be on the minds of Ajax residents when the go the polls on June 7.