Casino Windsor plays its cards cautiously

Casino Windsor officials are putting in a quarter, pulling the arm and hoping for the best.

The casino’s massive construction project, which has added a second tower to the Windsor skyline and is adding a 5,000-seat arena and convention center space to a remodeled casino and hotel, is expected to be done by June. Business was strong when the casino committed to the project in 2005, but that’s no longer the case.

Tripped up by the soaring rebound of the Canadian dollar, border crossing hassles and the opening of permanent casinos and hotels in Detroit, Casino Windsor has seen its 80%-American audience decline. Revenues were down sharply at the end of last year, so much so that the casino laid off more than 200 employees — after hiring them back over the previous year.

This is the second major glitch in Casino Windsor’s expansion. The first came when Ontario’s anti-smoking laws, post-9/11 border security lines and the first part of the huge construction project collided a couple of years ago, forcing the casino to lay off 300 workers. (They were rehired when it recovered.)

Despite all the problems, Casino Windsor’s transformation into Caesars Windsor this year has huge potential. The hotel has undergone a tremendous redesign already — it was completed last summer, in better times. Space in the new addition will add to what’s available, and the arena is being paired with 100,000 square feet of convention space.

The two towers will be linked by a 30,000-square-foot bridge, which will include hotel registration and a restaurant. On the front of the bridge, a gigantic display screen, potentially readable from the Detroit side of the river, will advertise upcoming events and shows.

„It’s going to cast a little light on the city,“ says Rick Juleen, project director for Young Electric Sign Company in Las Vegas. YESCo is building the sign and has been responsible over the last 80 years for creating the neon-lit image of Las Vegas.

„We’ve got a rich history of developing major spectaculars, as we call them, in Vegas. Two years ago, Casino Windsor approached us,“ Juleen says.

The company took a lot of photographs from the Detroit side of the river, and Juleen says it’s likely that folks in Detroit will be able to make out at least some of what’s shown on the LED panel, which measures 30 feet by 50 feet.

„They never really said it was absolutely critical that you could read the signs from Detroit,“ he says. „They wanted a dramatic entrance for people coming to the property. For all practical purposes, it’s a large-scale video monitor. You could put a video of Elton John at the piano on the sign, and it would look as good as it does at home on your TV.

The Caesars name will be emblazoned across the top of the building, and the inside décor will reflect the Caesars theme.

„It will be contemporary and elegant — touches of marble, rich gold tones and the contemporary look,“ says Teresa Roncon, senior manager of public relations for Ontario Lottery and Gaming. „It’s going to be in keeping and decorated in the style of Caesars.“

The structure of the new building and connector is done and mostly enclosed, she says. Interior work will begin next.