Gateway Casinos Sarnia has opened at Hiawatha Horse Park in Southwestern Ontario after the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) ended the slots-at-racetracks program in the province some eight years ago.

Operated by Gateway Casinos & Entertainment Limited, the 53,100 square foot facility officially opened for business on January 30, 2020. The site’s multi-million dollar renovation introduces 150 slots and a fully licensed signature “Express Bar” to the 22,033 square foot gaming floor.

Amenities and benefits:

According to the casino’s website, the Express Bar offers an assortment of “signature food and drink items” inspired by Gateway’s signature brand restaurants, Match Eatery and Public House, located at its much larger operation, just a five-minute drive away at the Starlight Casino Point Edward. The former OLG Casino Point Edward [Starlight] opened in January this year following a $26 million renovation announced on June 26, 2017. It is the first Starlight brand to open in Ontario.

The Sarnia casino creates more than 60 new jobs in the community and allows customers to earn points by playing slots and redeeming them. Gateway’s proprietary loyalty program, My Club Rewards, allows points earned to be redeemed at all other Gateway casinos throughout the Canadian province.

Opening ceremony:

Officials from both Gateway and the OLG were joined by Sarnia-Lambton MPP Bob Bailey and Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley were present at a ribbon cutting ceremony in January to officially launch the casino.

At the ceremony, Gateway Senior Vice President of Casino Operations Jamie Papp, said…

“Gateway is excited to bring another new gaming and entertainment facility to the greater Sarnia-Lambton region. Our guests can expect the same quality and friendly service they have grown accustomed to at our Starlight Casino in Point Edward, just on a more intimate scale.”

Slots at Racetracks Program:

The loss of the slots at Ontario racetracks in 2012 left the horse-racing industry “wounded deeply,” said MPP Bailey on opening day, according to the Sarnia Observer.

“This is a great day for Hiawatha Horse Park, Gateway Casinos and the City of Sarnia. Our government has kept its promise to the thousands of people that rely on the horse racing industry by reinvesting in the Slots at Racetracks Program. Gateway Casinos’ partnership with Hiawatha marks the return of a premium gaming and entertainment destination to the City of Sarnia. This will provide a real economic boost for Sarnia-Lambton and local businesses,” added Bailey.

Sarnia Mayor Bradley added that they “are delighted to see the return of slots to Hiawatha Horse Park. We welcome the jobs and synergy with the horse racing industry. Good luck to everyone who visits Hiawatha Slots.”

On behalf of the Crown corporation owned by the Government of Ontario, Canada, OLG Vice-President of Land Based Gaming, Bruce MacKenzie, congratulated Gateway on the grand opening and explained…

“Investing in this gaming site and in the community will help ensure the best possible gaming experience for customers, increase awareness of the local horse racing industry and allow OLG to continue to deliver benefits to the people and Province of Ontario.”

Welcomed tenant:

Hiawatha Horse Park owner Jim Henderson said that it was good to see the slots operation up and running again and that. He remarked, “Now we’ve got another anchor,” regarding having Gateway as a tenant at the horse park. The track continues to offer harness racing, along with other activities.

Henderson observed that horse racing “is starting to pick back up,” and that slot machines and horse racing make for an “awesome” combination, according to the Sarnia Observer. And finally, in what may be an indication of things to come, the track owner said that with a total of 66 hectares (164 acres), there is plenty of room at the horse park property for more new development.

Sarnia, being the host community, will reportedly receive a percentage of the casino’s slot revenue. The city estimates that it will mean an additional $400,000 a year, which it plans to use for capital projects, according to Bradley.