12/17/2009 12:00AM

Three-year deal made to run Fort Erie

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A group known as the Fort Erie Racing Consortium has reached a three-year lease agreement with the track's owners, Nordic Gaming, the group announced Thursday.

The consortium is comprised of the Economic Development and Tourism Corporation, the Town of Fort Erie, and the Ontario Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association. The agreement will run from 2010 through 2012.

Gaming revenue from Fort Erie's casino has dropped considerably in recent years, and Jim Thibert, general manager of the tourism group, said that Nordic Gaming lost approximately $4 million in 2008 even with a reduction in race days and a lower purse structure. In 2009, the consortium provided track ownership with $2.25 million to ensure a racing season while searching for a long-term solution to the track's financial problems.

Negotiations with the province of Ontario will guarantee the lessee of the track $5.6 million annually for operations rather than a percentage of gaming revenue. Fort Erie purses will continue to be funded by 10 percent of the slot revenues.

Sue Leslie, current president of the Ontario chapter of the horsemen's association, said that the schedule for the upcoming season would mirror the 2009 slate of 78 days held generally generally on a Sunday-through-Tuesday schedule. The Fort Erie season will begin on May 1, Kentucky Derby Day.

A transition of management will begin in March, with Nordic Gaming holding the reins to midsummer and then transferring the complete operation over to the consortium.

The consortium, together with the Ontario Racing Commission, is considering running Quarter Horse races at Fort Erie. Those races would be added to the regular Thoroughbred daily schedule.