FORT ERIE – Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak is calling on the government of Kathleen Wynne to reopen a slots facility in Fort Erie, albeit on a different model than when a gaming facility at the Fort Erie Race Track was operated by Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp.
In an open letter to Wynne, Hudak proposes a three-point plan: Restore slots to Fort Erie, form a public-private partnership with a business that knows how to run them and share the revenue locally.
Hudak further said that any partnership would require strict accountability measures be put in place.
“Fort Erie is my home town. I was born and raised there,” Hudak wrote to Wynne.
“Back in the late 90s, I fought to keep the track open by championing slots at the track as a revenue-sharing mechanism that would benefit local communities.”
Hudak continued: “There are ways to save that beautiful oval in Fort Erie – one which has survived two world wars and the Great Depression – and save other tracks and jobs across Ontario that are vital to their communities.”
In March 2012, the government of then Liberal premier Dalton McGuinty announced plans to cancel the provincial slots-at-racetracks revenue-sharing program.
The program saw millions of dollars in revenue from provincially operated slot machines at race tracks funneled into the horse-racing industry.
The program help keep tracks open, but was criticized for not incorporating any real goals for improving the industry or making it more sustainable in the face of increased competition from other forms of gambling, including online betting.
In late April, the province permanently closed the slot operations at tracks in Fort Erie, Windsor and Sarnia.
While other facilities remained open, the province ended the revenue sharing program a year later.
Fort Erie and a number of other of tracks across the province were able to open for a 2013 racing season with money granted by the province as part of a transition plan.
The funding deal for Fort Erie was for a single year.
Last month, an expert panel appointed by the province to chart a future course for the horse-racing industry tabled its final report.
In that document, the transition panel did not recommend funding for the Fort Erie Race Track, which the panel said is not financially viable.
That news raised howls from local politicians and from the Legislature’s two opposition parties, both of which have been jockeying for position on the hot-button issue ever since.
Almost daily since the Legislature reopened, the Tories and NDP have questioned the premier on the report and what, if anything, the Liberals will do to keep Fort Erie Race Track open.
On Wednesday, a delegation of people from Fort Erie travelled to Queen’s Park to participate in a media conference with Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath. The group also stayed to watch Queen Period, where the NDP again put pressure on Wynne, who is serving as her own minister of agriculture.
In a statement issued later in the day, Horwath said the government’s so-called “modernization” strategy isn’t working.
Communities across the province are rejecting attempts by OLG to expand casino gambling, while at the same time the province has not been able to find a sustainable path for the horse-racing industry.
“Kathleen Wynne’s horse racing plans are hurting families in rural Ontario. Instead of finding willing hosts for mega casinos, municipalities are lining up to say ‘no thanks’,” said Horwath.
“Instead of the windfall the government promised for the provincial coffers, horse people and track workers are losing their animals, their farms and their livelihoods. It doesn’t make sense and it isn’t working for Ontario.”
* * * *
Stay up-to-date. Click HERE to sign up for daily email alerts. It’s free, why not try it?