Fallout from both Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne's provincial gaming announcement and horse-racing transition-related news continues to hit the mainstream press, as stories regarding no less than four different Ontario racetracks have been front and center over the past couple of days.
The Examiner attempted to contact Kawartha Downs owner Harvey 'Skip' Ambrose regarding his decision to not agree to transitional funding from the government and thus cease live racing, but Ambrose was not interested in the publication's repeated requests for an interview. However, The Examiner was able to touch base with some local horseman about their feelings on the situation, and no of it was positive.
“I don’t even have words to describe how bad that is,” said horseman and Ontario Harness Horse Association rep. Dave Gibson. “It’s terrible news for the local horse people and the people that work at Kawartha Downs.”
Local racer Terry Heffernan, who invested heavily in a farm and racing outfit due to the slots-at-racetracks program, went on the record as saying that he is absolutely devastated. He also commented that the vagueness of Premier Wynne's announcement last week has forced his hand. “The simple fact that she didn’t give any percentage or any numbers, that tells me it’s just smoke and mirrors,” he was quoted as saying, adding, “I’m definitely getting out. I can’t run my farm the way I used to if I can’t race.”
Shift your focus north and you see more uncertainty.
A report out of Sudbury explains that the owner/operator of Sudbury Downs has been in discussion with the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. regarding a tentative slot-machine rent agreement, and with the Ontario Government regarding a transitional funding agreement which would see live racing continue at the track in some form for an unspecified length of time.
A report by northernlife.ca has quoted Sudbury Downs owner Pat MacIsaac as saying, “There’s still discussions going on, both for the slots and with the transition panel. That’s about all I can say.”
MacIsaac added, “I don’t think there’s any particular drop-dead date with respect to racing (live racing at Sudbury Downs). Historically, we start racing at the end of April. But that’s not cast in stone, either.”
The Sudbury Downs owner was also quoted as saying, “I’m neither optimistic nor pessimistic (about getting a deal done soon). We’re in the process of trying to get a deal on a couple of different levels that are not finalized. I really can’t comment on it beyond that.”
With the recent news that the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. has reached slot-machine rent agreements with both Flamboro Downs and Georgian Downs, those in the anti-downtown-Hamilton-casino-expansion camp have gone on the record as saying that the move should prove that casino expansion in the area should happen at the Flamborough raceway.
Hamilton Councillor Sam Merulla --- who has been a pro Flamboro Downs/anti-downtown-Hamilton-casino voice since the issue's outset --- has been quoted as saying that the debate on the issue "should" be over. Merulla's quotes came courtesy of an article by the CBC, which also contacted OLG Spokesman Tony Bitonti, who explained how the three-to-five-year agreement struck between Flamboro Downs (operator Great Canadian Gaming Corp., to be specific) and the OLG does not change the process whatsoever when it comes to the possibility of casino expansion coming to Hamilton's downtown in the future.
Down by the Canada/US border, word from a local Liberal insider is that a transitional agreement for the historic Fort Erie Race Track for thoroughbreds is close to being broached.
A report by bulletnewsniagara.ca has quoted Niagara Falls Liberal MPP Kim Craitor as saying this past Friday that the government and track operators are "very close" in beginning negotiations for transitional assistance.
The process has enraged both the province's New Democratic Party and the Progressive Conservative Party. NDP MPP Taras Natyshak ripped Premier Wynne directly after her announcement Friday, and PC MPP Monte McNaughton tore a strip off Wynne's announcement in a release sent out Monday.