Great Canadian Entertainment gets fourth CEO in two years

CEO shuffling started after Rod Baker resigned for getting COVID-19 vaccine in Yukon when ineligible

the cup
Horses enter the final stretch in the 2022 The Cup race at Hastings Racecourse | Photo: Michael Bye

Great Canadian Entertainment will get its fourth CEO since January 2021, thanks to Tony Rodio retiring and Matthew Anfinson filling Rodio's shoes, the company announced today.

The rapid shuffling at the top of the company, which was known as Great Canadian Gaming Corp. until August, started in January 2021, when CEO Rod Baker resigned amid controversy because Baker and wife Ekaterina Baker had gone to Yukon to get COVID-19 vaccine shots when they were ineligible. The Bakers pleaded guilty and were later fined in Yukon Territorial Court.

The company at the time had recently moved its official headquarters to Toronto, from Richmond, B.C., although longtime CEO Baker and his successor, interim CEO Terrance Doyle, were both largely based in B.C.

Management made no staff cuts in Richmond when the company's official head office address changed, Great Canadian spokesman Chuck Keeling told BIV. 

Great Canadian employs more than 2,000 people in B.C., and a total of 7,000 people Canada-wide, he said.

"We expect those numbers to grow as the industry continues its recovery," said Keeling.

Great Canadian was also in the news a lot during the pandemic because of B.C.'s Commission of Inquiry into Money Laundering.

Doyle testified at the commission and addressed the failure at the company's River Rock Casino in Richmond to properly report cash buy-ins under $50,000, and to deem buy-ins with $100 bills as suspicious. Doyle said this was not done on purpose and could be explained by a "communications issue."

Private equity giant Apollo Global Management (NYSE:APO) in September 2021 completed its US$1.9-billion takeover of what had been a Toronto Stock Exchange-listed company. Apollo then immediately appointed Rodio as the venture's top executive.

Great Canadian's chairman, Alex van Hoek, today praised Rodio for guiding the company through the COVID-19 pandemic, even though Rodio's tenure started after the company's most trying times. 

Keeling told BIV that the company's casinos and racetracks were closed for about 16 months starting in mid-March 2020. 

"Reopenings were staggered in different provinces for sure," Keeling said. "There was some reopening and then closing again in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Ontario for us. In B.C., we were closed from March 16, 2020 to July 1, 2021."

The company's B.C. operations include:
• River Rock Casino Resort in Richmond;
• Hastings Racecourse and casino in Vancouver;
• Hard Rock Casino Vancouver in Coquitlam;
• Elements Casino and Fraser Downs Racetrack in Surrey;
• Chances Maple Ridge;
• Elements Casino Chilliwack;
• Elements Casino Victoria; 
• Casino Nanaimo; and
• Chances Dawson Creek.  

Shortened horse racing seasons at Hastings Park took place in 2021 and 2022. Keeling said that he expects the 2023 season length at Hastings Park to be "close to pre-pandemic levels," and that he hopes that the facility will operate at pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

"We're investing in the facility again this year," Keeling said of Hastings Racecourse. "We're going to extend every effort in terms of trying to rebuild it."

Great Canadian Gaming rebranded as Great Canadian Entertainment in August to reflect what the company called its "strategy to set a new industry standard for gaming entertainment in Canada."

Van Hoek in a press release praised Anfinson for being "a North American leader in our industry with a deep understanding of the business. He has been responsible for driving top-line growth across all 25 of our properties and has held leadership roles in operations, marketing and analytics.”

Great Canadian today also appointed Jordan Banks as its first executive chairman.

gkorstrom@biv.com

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