07/13/2012 3:22PM

Fort Erie: Last hurrah for 115-year-old track


FORT ERIE, Ontario – A large and supportive crowd is expected for Prince of Wales Day at Fort Erie on Sunday. And, while many of those on hand will be hoping they are not watching the final running of the Prince of Wales Stakes at Fort Erie Racetrack, the evidence would suggest otherwise.

Ontario’s governing Liberal Party, through its Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation, launched its first salvo against horse racing this winter when it announced that the racetrack slots program would be discontinued as of March 31, 2013.

That revenue-sharing arrangement had proved financially beneficial to all involved, with the racetracks and horsemen each receiving 10 percent of the net proceeds, the hosting municipalities getting at least 5 percent, and the province raking in the balance.

In March, citing the “gaming modernization” program that the province had mandated with the goal of improving its gambling revenues, the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation announced that it would be pulling the plug on the slots operations on April 30 at Fort Erie, Windsor Raceway, and Hiawatha Horse Park in Sarnia, which are all located on the U.S. border.

Fort Erie Racetrack made a pitch to the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation to operate its own slots operation, which was rebuffed.

The final blow came when the province announced the creation of 29 new “gaming zones” that could host casinos and/or slots operations, and Fort Erie was not among them.

The Fort Erie Live Racing Consortium, which has been leasing the racetrack from its owner, Nordic Gaming, then announced that it would be forced to shut down the racetrack on Dec. 31.

Subsequent negotiations between the Ontario Horse Racing Industry Association, other industry groups, and the province have yet to provide any reassurances, and the unfortunate odds are that Fort Erie Racetrack will soon cease to exist after 115 years of operation.