NEW IN T.O.: The Theatre at Great Canadian Casino Resort Toronto is part of a $755 million complex. (Courtesy Great Canadian Entertainment)

Great Canadian Entertainment is Canada’s leading gaming and hospitality company

The Theatre at Great Canadian Casino Resort Toronto, a new 5,000-capacity venue with a retractable seating system, has opened next to Woodbine Racetrack on the expanded grounds of the former Casino Woodbine (now called Grandstand Casino), in the northwest side of the Greater Toronto Area, known as Etobicoke, just a 10-minute drive from Pearson Airport.

The $755 million complex from gaming and hospitality giant Great Canadian Entertainment is on 33 acres and includes 328,000 square feet of gaming space, a 400-room hotel, multiple dining options, 3,800 free covered parking spaces and various retail opportunities.

The venue offers flex configurations, including 4,061-capacity seated front, 5,000 general admission to two “fight night” options at 3,637-capacity and 3,982-capacity. The proscenium stage is 65’ x 27.2.  

Aligned Vision Group was the audio visual installer and integrator, and Nathan Haynes of Avio Designs the A/V consultant. 

Founded in 1982, Great Canadian Entertainment is Canada’s leading gaming and hospitality company with 25 gaming, entertainment and hospitality facilities,

VenuesNow spoke with Montreal-born Gavin Whiteley, chief marketing officer of Great Canadian Entertainment, about the much-needed 5,000-capacity venue at Canada’s largest “Vegas style” casino resort.

VenuesNow: The venue wasn’t in existence, but the casino was. How did Great Canadian Entertainment come to take it over and build a venue, a hotel and retail space?Gavin Whiteley: Great Canadian invested $ 1 billion to build an entirely new building, including the Theatre. We opened the casino portion in June. The Theatre is the next major installment of that. 

Is it government property?
The government manages casino licenses in Ontario. Our company, Great Canadian, has a monopoly on casino licenses in the Greater Toronto Area. So, unlike Vegas or even Vancouver, another company can’t just come in and build a casino next to ours. The OLG [Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation] manages that. 

Casino venues are starting to get more respect among the overall entertainment industry. What are you noticing? 

Having spent the last 10 years in Las Vegas, I was there for a time when entertainment really became one of the main drivers of visitation, when the industry recognized that entertainment is not just amenity, that you come for the casino and you stay for the show, but the entertainment itself can be what brings people to your property, and maybe people that are coming just for the show. The Las Vegas residency, starting with Celine Dion going through Britney and JLo and Backstreet Boys and Lady Gaga, and today with Adele, have really proven that model. I do think that that helped get more acceptance in the music industry, that playing a casino is not the end of your career, like it was with Elvis and the Hilton back in the day. It’s not your retirement gig. 

This is where artists are solidified and then can do shows that you can’t take elsewhere. So it improved their respect of casinos as not a lower class venue, but on par with any other venue. Seeing the space here, this is not a space that cut corners because it’s just a casino theater; it’s not just a casino. It’s a standalone venue that happens to be next to a casino where people have things to do before and after.

You got a new build. You can just dream up what you want to do. What were the important points?
The PA is state-of-the-art Meyer Sound technology. The video screen is top resolution. But that’s just installation. The architect for the room is the same one that worked on Pickering [CGL Architects in association with Chris Dikeakos Architects].

Why was Pickering 2,500 capacity and this one 5,000?
Sizing, zoning and market demand. Pickering, as we’re seeing with the shows now, really draws a lot from that area. It’s the right size venue for shows that are going to take place in that market. Pickering is not that far away to drive, but the market still thinks it is. For here, being close to the airport, close enough to downtown, and being able to draw more from more markets, 5,000 seats is the max capacity and the right size for where we’re located. 

What is the competition in downtown Toronto?
This fills an opportunity in Toronto. It’s a big reason why Live Nation was excited to partner with us on it is there is not a good option for a 5000-person venue.

What are the selling points for the artists?

One is having everything on site, so that same struggle of trying to park, get to the site, doing that on a tour bus is even worse. For us, having a super easy load-in. You got two side by side trucks or tour buses. They can come into our covered parking right off the highway. Once you’re here, we have underground parking for all sorts of support. We have a hotel on site, so you never have to leave property. We have dining and catering on site.  Coming in from out of town, the airport’s 10 minutes away. So it’s super convenient. The flexibility of access to the venue, around the venue and then all the support we have for for the artists and their teams here.

Let’s talk about the booking. You have an in-house booker.
We do in-house booking for some events. Live Nation is our exclusive booking partner for the venue. Most of the events will be through Live Nation. We co-promote concerts with them. 

Tom Cochrane [was] the public ticketed show (New Year’s Eve), and there are some shows leading up to the grand opening.
There’s a lot of shows still to be announced. Gwen Stefani got announced with Blake Shelton, May 3-4. We’ve got Frank Turner coming in Sept. (19-22]. We have Excision here for two back-to-back nights in March [14-15]. There’s more coming. It’s not going to be quiet up until Gwen and Blake.

If it’s considered the grand opening. What will you be doing to make that special?
it’s a fair question. That’s probably going to be the biggest weekend, not just for The Theatre, but for the casino. The casino resort has been in a phased opening. We opened the court, the middle of the casino, on June 20. At that time, the hotel wasn’t open; The Theatre wasn’t open; the streets weren’t open. So as those things become opened, there’s other parts of the casino experience that still have to have to light up. So that show [Stefani and Shelton] will really signify when all parts of the casino resort are open.