City wants to see OLG's hand before backing new motion
The invitations are a result of a motion by Ward 3 Coun. Claude Berthiaume to have the Chelmsford racetrack become the city's preferred site for the casino.
Not long after the casino plan was unveiled two years ago, councillors passed a resolution identifying four preferred sites: the Downs, downtown, the South End and The Kingsway. Originally, the request for proposals from potential casino operators was to be issued in late 2012 or early 2013.
The modernization plan, as the OLG initiative was called, originally cut off funding for horseracing in Ontario. But the plan has since been scaled back, and the province has been negotiating five-year funding deals with racetracks, and horse racing expertise has been added to the list of requirements for whomever bids on the casino.
“They are casino ready,” he said. “They have the facility, room for expansion, parking and the support of the community … (And) I've never heard any opposition to having a casino at Sudbury Downs.”
City CAO Doug Nadorozny said the OLG has told them the RFP for the northern gaming zone would go out in a matter of weeks.
“That's a very vague term,” Nadorozny said. “They've said within weeks numerous times in this process and it hasn't quite come to be.
“And they've given us no indication as to how many will be invited to bid. They've only indicated there are multiple organizations interested.”
As far as horseracing goes, he said the Ontario Racing Commission has signed five-year funding agreements with several tracks in Ontario and has made an offer in Sudbury, as well.
“Indications are that what is on the table so far falls short of what Sudbury Downs has indicated they require to operate a successful racing season,” Nadorozny said.
But Ward 7 Coun. Dave Kilgour indicated a deal for horseracing was being delayed by the owners of Sudbury Downs. Sources are telling him that the Downs is the only track in the province that hasn't reached a deal, despite having received the “richest” offer of any track in Ontario.
“You don't have to believe what I'm saying,” Kilgour said. “But I know what source I got it from and I feel confident those things are true.”
But Nadorozny said there are other Ontario tracks without deals, although negotiations are further along than in Sudbury. He wouldn't describe the offer as the richest in the province, but it does offer a higher subsidy than tracks in southern Ontario would enjoy. And the funding would come with fewer strings attached.
“Nobody feels it's massive amounts of money,” he said. “(But) the subsidy per race or per race day would be a little higher than it would be for other tracks.”
While being critical of the OLG and the province for the way modernization has been handled, councillors were reluctant to tie the city to one location.
Ward 11 Coun. Terry Kett described the process as “a disgraceful mess.” But he said if the casino somehow becomes a reality, council should ensure the city gets the maximum benefit. If there's any hope of getting amenities like a new arena, the city needs some flexibility, Kett said.
“The synergies that are out there – for a convention centre, maybe an OHL rink, or a hotel, that's not going to happen (at the Downs),” he said.
“I don't think this is our problem to solve,” added Ward 10 Coun. Frances Caldarelli. “I don't think we benefit the city by getting any deeper into this.”
Ward 12 Coun. Joscelyne Landry-Altmann suggested deferring the matter to give the Downs and the OLG a chance to respond, since there's so much new information being bandied about. For example, she'd like to know if Sudbury really has gotten the “richest” offer in the province.
“These are things that being said here without any answers,” Landry-Altmann said. “This is why it's so confusing.”
The decision was deferred, although councillors were cautioned that two weeks may not be enough time to get both groups to appear.