06/05/2012 6:02PM

Fort Erie to close permanently at end of this year

Michael Burns
According to the Fort Erie Live Racing Consortium, the track will be closing Dec. 31 after 115 years in operation

FORT ERIE, Ontario – Following its annual board meeting on Tuesday, an official from the Fort Erie Live Racing Consortium said that Fort Erie Race Track would close permanently on Dec. 31.

The Fort Erie Live Racing Consortium board includes representation from the Ontario Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, Fort Erie Race Track management, unions involved with racetrack operations, the town of Fort Erie, and the Fort Erie Economic Development and Tourist Corporation.

“We have the responsibility to determine whether future operations at this track can continue,” said Jim Thibert, chief executive officer of the racetrack and secretary/treasurer of the Fort Erie Live Racing Consortium. “In the final analysis, without the needed funding of close to $6 million, the board resolved that the Fort Erie Race Track would formally close as of Dec. 31, 2012.”

The Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation announced this winter that slots operations would be shut down at Ontario’s racetracks by March 31, 2013. The Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation then announced that slot machines would be removed from the province’s three border racetracks – Fort Erie, Windsor Raceway, and Hiawatha Horse Park – on April 30, 2012.

The Fort Erie Live Racing Consortium submitted a business plan to the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation under which the slots operation there could be privatized, but that possibility was erased when the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation announced the creation of 29 “gaming zones” in the province and Fort Erie was not among them.

Fort Erie Race Track, in its 115th year of operation and in the third year of a three-year lease agreement between the Fort Erie Live Racing Consortium and Nordic Gaming, which owns the facility, is conducting an 81-day meeting.

This historic track’s first day of operation was Wednesday, June 16, 1897 and the final day of racing will be Oct. 30.

Thibert said that an application to extend Fort Erie’s license to March 31, 2013 will be sent to the Ontario Racing Commission.

“The simulcast parlor now in operation falls under our jurisdiction until the end of December and that extension will keep it in operation until the end of March,” said Thibert. 

Thibert also added that an extension to March 31, 2013, would allow for the possibility of additonal funds from government sources to be added to this year’s purse allocation.

Rick Harrington More than 1 year ago
One of the other articles floating around on the web commented that the slot traffic dropped due to American patrons dropping from 85% to 15%. There's several reasons for this drop: 1) Buffalo Raceway and Batavia Downs: Americans no longer need to cross the border to get their one-armed bandit fix, they just have to go down the highway to Hamburg or Batavia and play at one of these two racetracks. 2) Border Crossing Rules: Used to be as long as you had some identification, you could cross the border into Canada. Now you need a passport to cross the Niagara River. Not everyone has one and not everyone has the time or the need to produce one. Why go through the time and expense, plus the hassle of exchange rates, when you could drop your money in the states. 3) The Economy: No matter who keeps saying in Washington that the economy is making a turn-around, people are still reeling from high gas prices, low wages, and a bad job market for most job categories. As long as gas prices remain over $3/gallon, you're not going to see a lot of people drop their shrinking disposable income. If it was one of these three things, and only one, Fort Erie and the other Niagara casino properties, could still co-exist with the slots at Buffalo and Batavia (and Finger Lakes if you're willing to drive that far from Buffalo-metro). But all of these things combined has resulted in fewer people wanting to cross the border to gamble. Nothing can be done to stop this except more disposable income for hard-working patrons. But that's not going to happen anytime soon.
[removed] More than 1 year ago
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Ange More than 1 year ago
Excuse me, Art, I am a Canadian horse owner and I do NOT send my horses to slaughter. Actually a lot of us work pretty damn hard to not allow that to happen, thank you very much you arrogant pr-1-ck. And here in BC, we have 4 tracks, 1 gets used 5.5 months of the year, the other 3 share about 6 days of racing each year. So don't tell me we have too many tracks. Try doing some research before opening your big yap. Obviously you're American?
Leslie Bliman-Kuretzky More than 1 year ago
One of the most beautiful racetracks in the world. So sad. :(
Jessie Hancock More than 1 year ago
Get your facts straight before you go preaching. The revenue from slots is not a subsidy. OLG rents the space from the tracks and is under a contract. Your just feeding out of the hands of the liberal government that tells you lies. Have a brain and think for yourself. This doesn't just hurt horse racing, there's a trickle down effect to all industries. 60,000 jobs will be lost because everyone think it would be a ''smart'' idea to build a new casino. Who do you think is going to recieve the revenue from the, probably American built casino. Racetracks put their 20% of the profits back into the community and charities and everything made is spent on employees and upkeep/care of the horses and farms. So yeah, there is a bigger issue that most people refuse to recognize. A casino in the GTA will only cause debt within families, what happens then? Use your brain before you speak!
Robin Dawson More than 1 year ago
Talk about getting your facts right...in 1995 both Jim Proudfoot and Jack Lakey wrote in The Toronto Star (July 5th. 1995) that....' 28,000 jobs were at stake, if horse racing did not receive government support '...(call it what you like, its a subsidy that they're now going to put to better use)...so where have the 32,000 jobs come, from during a downturn in the industry? Its pure fabrication from people who have squandered a golden opportunity and are now whineing that they need to be baled out, AGAIN. Had the subsidies been put to better use...marketing and presenting racing properly, instead of boosting purses, paying off debts and improving facilities (barns etc. at Woodbine) there might now be an audience and increased local handle. Quite frankly, horse racing in Ontario has less presence today than before slots were introduced (with local live handle at Woodbine less than used to be bet on Fort Erie, on dark days, before simulcasting was introduced) and those in charge have brought this upon themselves.
Robin Dawson More than 1 year ago
Jimee63...you are right. I discovered Fort Erie in 1978...my first year in Canada. It was Canada's Saratoga, a delightful racetrack in the most beautiful surroundings, lovingly tended by track superintendant Gene Newman and his liver and white springer spaniel. The infield, itself, was quite spectacular. My first August (for the A-meet, as it was called) I shared a house with soon to be Hall-of-Fame trainer Roger Attfield. There was a buzz of excitement in the air, as horsemen enjoyed a break from the heat and humidity of Woodbine. The track was full, the grandstands were packed and during that month there were numerous parties...I have fond memories of Crystal Beach, Point Abino, golf and all around good times. Fort Erie had and still has one of the best old-style dirt tracks in North America: so you knew that the horses loved it, too. So what a shame that the track where Northern Dancer made his debut is closing. All I can say is that this has happened because of continued mismanagement by first the Ontario Jockey Club and more recently various other enterprises, including Ladbrokes. But the worst offender by far has been David Willmot who was responsible for selling off Fort Erie, in the first place.....for$1 and its debts. Like most people involved in racetrack (mis)management, Willmot had no foresight and, while Jimee (above) is right that no track should survive unless it can sustain itself without casinos, the fact is that Ontario horsemen have only themselves to blame by allowing their sport to be run into the ground by people who do not understand their needs or what it takes to make our sport tick. Now its too late and everyone wonders where the cheaper horses will go and whether FE horsemen will be accomodated at Woodbine? And one has to wonder...if slot machines were going to generate the revenue needed to save horse racing in Ontario, what happened?
YYZGUY1 More than 1 year ago
If you find yourself agreeing with Jimee63, step back from the computer and go take remedial Grade 3.
matt miller More than 1 year ago
My first live race was at Fort Erie. We've introduced friends and their kids to a sport we love. Its a different atmosphere than any other track I've been to. I can't imagine the little ones having as good a time at Woodbine or one of the bigger venues. There is definitely a place for that in racing. The future race fans are running around eating hot dogs and ice cream and feeling the earth shake when the other "little guys" come thundering down the stretch. They don't care if its a 5k claimer or the Prince of WalesStakes. They just love to see them run. If something like this can't be saved, the game we love is in alot of trouble-
Jimee63 More than 1 year ago
There is a bigger issue here that most of you refuse to recognize. Horse racing's popularity has fallen so far that it can no longer support itself through daily handles.Racing purses should not be subsidized by slot money. if your product canno longer support itself, then go away. And who is to blame for this state of affairs, I suggest all you horsemen take a good look in the mirror.
YYZGUY1 More than 1 year ago
You are another misinformed dunce with an opinion. A McGuinty voter no doubt.
Robin Dawson More than 1 year ago
This is not the government's fault. If you read Jack Lakey (Toronto Star - June 1995) you'll see former Racing Commissioner Frank Drea quoted as sayting...' The Ontario Jockey Club is the most subsidized organization in Ontario...they certainly do not deserve anything '. Over the past 15 years Woodbine Entertainment Group (formerly the OJC) have squandered billions of dollars, bolstering a supposed not-for-profit entity with public money. They have had their chance to make horse racing more popular and blown it. Shame on them.
YYZGUY1 More than 1 year ago
How many industries in this province are in competition with their own government? OLG needed the racetracks to develop the slot machine revenue stream. There are no government/taxpayer subsidies going to the racetracks. However the municipalities are receiving subsidies from the program. Get your facts straight. Maybe stop using the Star as your source of reference. No better than Wikipedia.
Robin Dawson More than 1 year ago
This is nonsense. OLG used racetracks as socially acceptable venues (where gambling already took place) to locate their slots. In the United States, operators like PENN GAMING are bound to racetracks for the same reason, even though they now know that there is no crossover. In the case of Ontario, the Provincial Government gave horse racing ' a leg up ' by granting it 20% of net revenue over a period of 15 years, which is now almost up. The understanding was that this money would enable those in charge of the sport to increase all-round interest, so that at the end of the 15 years the sport would be in good stead. The fact that this has not happened is entirely the fault of the OJC/WEG who have mismanaged this most fortuitous windfall, not the government who gave it to them. Now, like a drug addict who cannot survive without his fix (slots in this case) they're complaining that they cannot sustain racing as it is, unless subsidies continue. This is shameful. And, if you want a solution, I'll provide you with one. Its very simple.
statepoo More than 1 year ago
Added funding for purse allocation? I thought they already had their money for this year's purses.
Cornelius More than 1 year ago
The Fort Erie Kive Racing Consortium listed above ought to hang their heads in shame as they are responsible for this Fort Erie disaster. Another culprit in this mess id the ONTARIO RACING COMM. who preffered to look the other way rather than pointing out at the shenaningans that are still going on at Fort Erie Racetrack. Extremely bad management, frivilous spending of government funds and no collaboration from employees and their unions has brought this sad situation. The town of Fort Erie is the sacrificial lamb for the error in judgement by the OLG to suppirt Casin o Niagara that has become a dump, yet will still spend 150 million in a 15 year lease. Disgraceful and an invitation for an investigation. Last but not least let's hope that the Fort Erie residents will show their unity in voting in one block to defeat this herrendous administration in the next provincial election.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Sad, just sad!