But OLG spokesperson Tony Bitonti said the delays are due to the size and complexity of the process, and not because of a new direction by new Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne, who fired Paul Godfrey in March as head of the OLG and has put a new focus on helping the horse-racing industry.
“It's taken a bit more time, and that's fine,” Bitonti said. “This is the first time we have done this ... so that's why we're taking our time and making sure we get it right.”
When the OLG announced its modernization program in May 2012, it aimed to pick an operator to build and run casinos in 29 gaming zones across the province by the end of 2013. It also announced an end to the slots at the racetracks program, which saw the OLG share gaming revenue with the racetracks.
As part of the process, potential bidders were encouraged to locate the casinos closer to population centres, to maximize revenue. That seemed to spell the end of Sudbury Downs in Chelmsford, which had hosted slot machines and racing for more than a decade.
But since Wynne came to power at the start of the year, deals for transitional funding have been signed with many Ontario racetracks, along with three- to five-year leases with track owners to have them continue hosting the slots as the modernization process progresses.
Bitonti said they hope to issue request for proposals before the end of 2013, and pick an operator sometime in 2014. But once selected, the operator will move into Sudbury Downs and decide whether they want to build or stay put.
“Once they take over, it's not automatic that facility is going to move,” Bitonti said. “Whoever it is has to take over the existing gaming sites – in Sudbury, it's Sudbury Downs. Then settle in for a little bit, and then start looking at what they want to do – do they want to relocate, to they want to stay there ...”
The operator, the municipality and the OLG all have to agree before the facility would relocate, he said.
“The operator will then start that discussion and see if they have a good business case to move that facility,” Bitonti said. “Do we need to build a hotel? Do we need to expand? Do we need to relocate, in some cases?
“The municipality has to be satisfied to see the facility move closer to the community ... The facility in Chelmsford, it's a good location, but it's also 30 or 40 minutes out of town.”
Downs owner Pat MacIsaac wasn't available to comment before Northern Life's deadline. But Ward 3 Coun. Claude Berthiaume, whose ward includes Chelmsford, says he's pushed for the new facility to stay at the Downs since Day 1.
There's plenty of room for expansion, he said, as well as to build amenities. And there's already space for gaming tables and more slot machines, Berthiaume said, because the OLG asked the track a few years ago to be ready for expanded gaming.
“There's a whole floor there,” he said. “I always wondered why they would want to build a new (casino) when Sudbury Downs is already there.
“It does have room for expansion, if they want to build a new hotel – or a new arena at Sudbury Downs.”