Remodeled Starlight Casino sports a dash of Vegas pizzazz

Cheers went up at the Starlight Point Edward Casino as Mayor Bev Hand cut the ribbon with Keith Andrews, left, Senior VP and Managing Director of Gateway Casinos, and Greg McKenzie, Executive VP and COO at the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation. Cathy Dobson

Cathy Dobson

It feels as though the $26 million invested by a private operator has virtually rebuilt the 18-year-old casino on Point Edward’s waterfront.

It has certainly brought a touch of Vegas to a gaming facility that was looking a bit tired when run by the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG).

Gateway Casinos & Entertainment, one of Canada’s largest gaming companies, assumed operation of six gaming facilities in southwestern Ontario in 2017. Since then, Gateway has acquired five more casinos in northern Ontario.

The company made Point Edward the first in line for a serious overhaul.

Now, more than a year later, work is complete and Gateway Casinos Point Edward has 25 gaming tables – an increase from 21 – and nearly 50 more slot machines for a total of 494.

There are two new restaurants, including The Buffet and MATCH Eatery, where a separate entrance from the casino allows people under 19 to dine.

The new Nova Bar in the centre of the gaming floor allows patrons to play slots at their table.

Walls have been knocked out. Natural light streams in from the waterfront and the building’s location on the St. Clair River is finally put to good use with outdoor patios in summer.

Linda McColl

The new décor reflects the “glamour and glitz” of Las Vegas, general manager Linda McColl said at the Nov. 28 grand opening.

Gateway rebranded the Point Edward location as a Starlight Casino. Gone are all signs of the original aquatic theme, including fish tanks and sea urchins strung from the ceiling, replaced by a modern look with better lighting.

There’s also a greater focus on food and beverage sales intended to draw a larger customer base.

The casino currently attracts an average of 1,000 customers a day; more in the summer, says McColl. About one third come from the U.S.

Marketing plans to bring in more American patrons kicked in the day after renovations ended, she said.

Gateway has added staff, bringing the employee complement to 340 from 325.

Bev Hand

Point Edward Mayor Bev Hand helped cut a big red ribbon at the grand opening and said the new jobs are welcome, as is the continuing revenue that a host community receives in Ontario from gaming facilities.

Point Edward, with a population of 2,047, receives 4.25% of slots revenue and 4% from the tables. In 18 years that has meant $44.1 million for the municipality, paying for capital projects, new roads and the village’s enviable park system.

A new $700,000 fire truck is due to be delivered in 2019. Casino revenue has kept property taxes down as well, Hand pointed out.

“We also want to share our good fortune with the greater community,” she said, pointing out Point Edward has made substantial donations to facilities such as Sarnia’s hospice, youth services, Pathways and Lambton College.

Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley was among the many politicians at the grand opening, and hoped for some news about a recent surprise announcement from the Doug Ford government that Hiawatha Slots will reopen soon.

However, Gateway personnel said that, as yet, there have been no discussions about gaming operations at the Sarnia racetrack.

Got a great idea for a business story? Send it to cathy.dobson@thesarniajournal.ca.