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Hiawatha Still In Limbo

Published: April 18, 2013 10:53 am ET

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A handful of racing and civic officials have commented on the lack of race dates awarded to Sarnia's Hiawatha Horse Park for the 2013 racing season.

Hiawatha Horse Park owner Jim Henderson, Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley and Ontario Horse Racing Industry Association President Sue Leslie have each commented.

A pair of reports, by CTV News and blackburnnews.com, help explain that without having been allotted live race dates for 2013, the horse racing industry centered around Hiawatha Horse Park has been left in limbo.

In 2012, the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. closed down the slot-machine area it had been renting from Hiawatha Horse Park under the now-terminated slots-at-racetracks program.

Mayor Bradley believes that Hiawatha having not been granted 2013 race dates by the ORC has more to do with the OLG wanting the local Point Edward charity casino to look more attractive to potential private-sector gaming operators.

"[The ORC's decision to not grant race dates to Hiawatha is] really meant to enhance the gaming facility they have in Point Edward which is up for sale," Mayor Bradley was quoted as saying in the CTV News report. "By eliminating the slots, and then the race dates, they increase the value of that particular site."

"We've lost a lot of money, this is costing a small fortune," Henderson told CTV News.

In regard to Hiawatha having not being granted race dates by the ORC, Henderson said, "I was basically told we're excluded, they're not (the OMAFRA horse-racing transitional panel is not) going to negotiate with you at this time. Every time we go to do something it's the same thing, 'Hiawatha, you're excluded, you're not even part of the deal.'"

The CTV News article and the blackburnnews.com report did state that Hiawatha was offered a prior deal, but had rejected it. Henderson disputed that statement in the CTV News report and said that no offer was made.

"Obviously, this is a real give and take situation," Leslie said in the blackburnnews.com report. "The government is spending as little as they possibly can. The OMAFRA panel, I'm sure, have been allotted a minimal amount of money to keep racetracks open, so I don't blame the panel that they aren't upping their offers. I simply don't think they have the money to spread around."

Leslie went on to say, "My sentiment is that if there is any way to keep your track open, keep it open if you want to run live racing in the future. It is going to be very difficult to get them re-opened once they're closed."

(With files from blackburnnews.com and CTV News)

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