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Western Fair Discussions Continue

Published: November 13, 2017 12:19 pm ET

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The London Free Press has published an article about the ongoing discussions in regard to future gaming and potential expansion at the Western Fair District.

The article has cited Western Fair District CEO Hugh Mitchell as saying that negotiations have been “complex” due to the fact that there are agreements between four entities: the city of London – which is the co-owner of most of the fairgrounds – the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp., the Western Fair District and gaming operator Gateway Casinos & Entertainment.

Gateway has asked the Western Fair District and the City of London to sell it some of the jointly-owned fair property in order for a casino expansion and the introduction of accompanying amenities, which could include a hotel, to come to the site. Gateway has also said that an alternative would be to have Western Fair reduce the $6 million annual lease that the OLG currently pays to lease the casino building. That deal is set to expire in 2020. Gateway has said that if an agreement cannot be struck, it will be forced to look into potential alternative gaming locations within the gaming bundle, although that is not necessarily what it wants to do.

“Without the lease payments we can not support live racing,” Western Fair’s Mitchell was quoted as saying. “We’re working with the government and Gateway to find a solution.”

Gateway spokesman Rob Mitchell told the London Free Press that although his company hopes an agreement can be struck for the expansion to be at Western Fair, Gateway does not have an interest in subsidizing horse racing. “They are two separate entities,” he was quoted as saying. “We bid on a casino. (It) has nothing to do with horse racing.”

Local racing participant Mark Horner, who is a director of both Standardbred Canada and the Central Ontario Standardbred Association, commented on the current impasse, stating that, from the perspective of a horseman, “you got to feel kind of helpless.”

Ward Councillor Jesse Helmer has also commented on the potential of Gateway locating its gaming facility somewhere other than Western Fair.

“If (Gateway) relocates the casino out of the community, there might be an impact of millions of dollars on the city budget, and we’d have to make changes in the budget to accommodate that,” said Helmer. “We’d have to raise taxes or cut some services or push things off in the future. People need to understand those trade-offs.”

Helmer went on to say, “The licence is for a big geographic area. Conceivably, Gateway could operate in a different location. That’s something else we have to keep in mind.”

Standardbred Canada Director Ian Fleming, who is also manages racing at Clinton Raceway, stated that Gateway will eventually turn its focus to Dresden and Clinton. “People are obviously nervous,” he said

(With files from the London Free Press)

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