Worries for horse industry as OLG pulls out of Flamboro Downs
The Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation is looking for a private-sector operator to run the slots at Flamboro Downs or elsewhere in the community after it ends its site-holder agreement at the racetrack next year.
The province’s gaming agency notified the track’s operating company, the Great Canadian Gaming Corporation, last week that it would terminate its lease and funding of the machine parlour starting March 31, 2013.
Over the weekend, OLG spokesperson Tony Bitonti said it plans to put out a request for proposals (RFP) with specific requirements sometime in the fall to private-sector operators interested in running the facility.
“What are the plans specifically for Flamboro Downs? I can’t tell you that because we don’t even know ourselves. What we’re doing right now is looking toward a regulated, private-sector operator to come in,” Bitonti said.
If there is interest in Flamboro Downs, the slots could stay at the current Highway 5 site or move elsewhere in the community, he said.
The OLG announced last month it was ending its Slots at Racetracks program, which was established in 1998 and splits more than $350 million annually among track operators and horse associations.
MPP Ted McMeekin said he hoped the RFP would be issued with a requirement for a horse racing component in a new deal. “Given that decision (about the Slots at Racetracks program) has been taken, I’m looking for the next best solution.”
But local councillors are worried changes to the funding formula or relocation of the slots would be a huge blow to the horse industry.
The Ontario Harness Horse Association currently receives 10 per cent of Flamboro Downs’ slots revenue. The city receives a blended 5 per cent and 2 per cent cut.
“We need the combination of having the horses there. The racetrack … keeps the horse industry alive,” Ward 14 Councillor Robert Pasuta said.
He has heard “rumblings” of moving the slots downtown, he said. “That won’t work … You have to save the horse industry. It’s agriculture. It involves farmers who supply hay, greens, all the small suppliers of feed and harness equipment.”
Councillor Judi Partridge said there wasn’t a lot of information coming out, but she is scheduled to meet with OLG executives April 24 along with Pasuta and the mayor to seek more clarity about the city’s involvement.
The “spillover” economic development from the horse race industry would also be affected if the slots leave, as there are veterinarians, farm equipment sellers and pharmaceutical businesses that depend on the horse racing industry, she said.
“People are scared. They are really scared,” Partridge said. “This is their livelihood … You take that away — what are they supposed to do?”
Great Canadian Gaming also received notice the OLG was terminating its lease at Georgian Downs in Barrie last Thursday.
A press release issued by Great Canadian Gaming indicated the “future profitability of Georgian Downs and Flamboro Downs will be negatively affected” if the OLG does not enter a new agreement with the operator.
Spokesperson Howard Blank said Saturday the company will wait for official word from the OLG about possible negotiations before commenting on whether it will put together a proposal.
“We are Canada’s largest gaming and entertainment operator, so if there are opportunities afforded us, we will look at that like we do any opportunity for the company,” Blank said.
Cambridge resident Tim Morgan, 49, hits the slot machines at Flamboro Downs once a month. On Sunday, he said he was concerned moving the slots would cause the whole facility to close.
“They go hand in hand. I usually come with friends of mine and they both come for the horses,” he said.
Alberta Marchant, 78, agreed. Marchant, who lives near the racetrack, has been going to the slot parlour every couple of weeks for three years. “If you take the slots out, the horses will go too,” she said.