07/21/2004 11:00PM

Fort Erie cuts purses 15 percent

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In response to declining business in its slot machine operation, Fort Erie is cutting purses by 15 percent across the board for the final seven weeks of the meet, effective Saturday. Purses have been averaging approximately $190,000 per day.

"There will have to be a further evaluation over the wintertime as to where our purse structure is going to be next year," said Nick Coukos, executive director of the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association of Ontario.

"We are working on putting together a structure that will be able to work next year over enough live racing dates where we could keep people relatively happy compared to the circumstances we're in," Coukos said.

According to trainer Daryl Ezra, a member of the Fort Erie advisory committee, the slot operation has been responsible for 75 percent of the purse account.

"The slots are down 40 percent based on probably premium numbers," said Ezra. "But it's summer now, this is our prime time. It's not going to get better."

Ezra cited several factors for the decline, including the proliferation of slots in the area encompassing Niagara Falls and Buffalo.