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Start of Sudbury's horse racing season delayed -- at best

By: Darren MacDonald - Sudbury Northern Life

 | May 21, 2014 - 5:00 AM |
Horse racing was tentatively scheduled to begin Saturday at Sudbury Downs. File photo.

Horse racing was tentatively scheduled to begin Saturday at Sudbury Downs. File photo.

Races were to begin Saturday, but Downs, province still working on funding deal

 With the first race night scheduled for Saturday and no deal with the province in place, harness racing at Sudbury Downs will be delayed this year – if it happens at all.

May 24 was the tentative start date for the 2014 season, with races slated every Saturday – and several Wednesdays – until Oct. 11. But an official at the Downs confirmed Tuesday no deal was in place. Andrew MacIsaac, director of the Downs, wouldn't elaborate further, other than to say efforts are continuing to get a agreement.

At issue is whether the Downs will be part of a five-year, $500 million plan by Kathleen Wynne's Liberal government to help tracks across the province cope with the end of the Slots at Racetrack Program. The industry depended on revenue from slot machines to survive, and the end of the program spelled doom for most racetracks.

Wynne provided one-year transitional funding in 2013, and most tracks in Ontario have signed on to a five-year deal being offered by the Ontario Racing Commission this year.

The Downs has been offered a reported $1 million for each of the five years of the agreement. But Downs owner Pat MacIsaac said in an April interview that, while they “were still working on it,” what the province was offering was not enough to keep industry viable. Costs are considerably higher in the North, and the Downs is the only track in the region, he said.

“This has been very stressful experience – not only for the racetrack, but for employees and horsepeople,” MacIsaac said. “There's a lot of people involved in the race track. People's livelihoods depend on it. So they've been on pins and needles for a while now.”

Funding the horse racing industry is now a part of the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp.'s modernization plan, which initially cut tracks out of future revenue sharing. Announced in spring 2012, the OLG hoped to add billions more to its profits by opening standalone casinos in gaming zones across Ontario, including Sudbury.

But the plan cost the Liberals support in rural ridings, and Wynne changed course when she became premier in January 2013.

Meeting on May 13, city council put off a resolution by Ward 3 Coun. Claude Berthiaume. He wanted the city to name the Chelmsford track as the city's preferred site, if a casino is ever built in the city.

“They are casino ready,” Berthiaume 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.”

But Ward 7 Coun. Dave Kilgour said the offer made to the Downs was the most generous in the province, and that Sudbury is the lone racetrack in the province without an agreement.

“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.”

Doug Nadorozny, the city's chief administrative officer, said there are other Ontario tracks without completed deals, although negotiations are further along than in Sudbury.

While he wouldn't describe the offer as the richest in the province, he said it gives a larger per-race subsidy than tracks in southern Ontario, and the funding would come with fewer strings attached.

“The subsidy per race or per race day would be a little higher than it would be for other tracks,” Nadorozny said. “(But) nobody feels it's massive amounts of money ... And 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.”

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Darren MacDonald

Darren MacDonald

Staff Writer


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