Updated on 03/26/2013 2:06PM

Fort Erie gets reprieve as Ontario steps in with funding


Fort Erie Race Track, which had been expected to close its doors this season, has been rescued and will be receiving transitional funding from the Ontario government.

Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne announced early Tuesday afternoon that Fort Erie, as well as Standardbred racetracks Flamboro Downs and Georgian Downs, had signed transitional funding agreements with the province.

Details were not made public, but more information should be forthcoming when the Fort Erie Live Racing Consortium holds a press conference at 11 a.m. Thursday.

The Ontario Horse Racing Industry Association responded to the latest developments Tuesday afternoon in a prepared statement.

“While we are happy with the announcement that there will be racing at three more racetracks in 2013, OHRIA is continuing to stress the importance of details of the long-term integration strategy,” said chair Sue Leslie, with reference to Wynne’s recent promise that horse racing would be integrated into the province’s gaming strategy , without providing details.

“We need to know the financial details for the long-term, which is why we are asking Premier Wynne to extend the existing Slots at Racetracks Program until a strategy going forward can be formulated.”

The Fort Erie Live Racing Consortium said last June that it would be closing permanently on Dec. 31 after the province announced that it would be terminating its slots-at-racetracks program on March 31, 2013.

That program provided 10 percent of proceeds to the racetracks and 10  percent to the horsemen for purses.

Shortly thereafter, the closing date for Fort Erie’s slots operation was bumped up to April 30, 2012, and the machines were removed from the facility.

The Fort Erie Live Racing Consortium announced in February that it had extended its lease with the racetracks owners, Nordic Gaming Corporation, to March 31, 2013.

The Fort Erie Live Racing Consortium also negotiated a new two-year lease with Nordic, with the annual cost reduced from $650,000 to $395,000, which now will kick in April 1. The racetrack has been open for simulcasting this year.

Fort Erie has been operating for 115 years and is the site for the Prince of Wales Stakes, the second leg of the triple crown for Canadian-bred 3-year-olds.