06/21/2012 1:23PM

Woodbine: CEO says track may close if slots revenue is taken away

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Michael Burns
Woodbine Entertainment Group President and CEO Nick Eaves speaks to the media at the Queen's Plate post-position draw.

ETOBICOKE, Ontario – Nick Eaves, president and chief executive officer of the Woodbine Entertainment Group, dropped a bombshell at the Queen’s Plate post-position draw breakfast here Thursday morning.

Eaves, speaking in the walking ring before the largest media gathering of the season, said that Woodbine Racetrack could be forced to cease operations if Ontario’s Liberal Government proceeds with its plan to shut down the racetrack slots program here next March 31.

“We’ve invested almost $400 million and completely changed the operation of our business,” said Eaves, noting that admission and parking charges were eliminated to accommodate the slots operation.

“It’s simply not possible for us to have the slots product taken away, and be expected as an industry to sustain ourselves and survive on pari-mutuel wagering income. The government’s going-forward plan right now does not include revenue sharing; it proposes only a nominal sum to rent the area.”

The racetrack slots program, a partnership between the provincially-run Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation and the racetracks began here in 2000 and has been a boon to both horseracing and the government. The revenue-sharing program has provided 10 percent of net proceeds to the racetrack operators, 10 percent to the horsemen for purses, roughly 5 percent to the host municipalities, and the balance to the provincial government.

Eaves pointed out that the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation’s business plan, which is backed by the provincial government, allows for the creation of a number of new casinos in the province. Those, along with the advent of online gaming and sports betting in the near future, will provide additional competition to horseracing.

“We’ll be competing against government money,” said Eaves. “We’ll be in an impossible position.”

The Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation already has shut down the slots program at Ontario’s three border racetracks as the machines were removed from Fort Erie Racetrack, Windsor Raceway, and Hiawatha Horse Park at the end of April. The Fort Erie Live Racing Corsortium announced last month that the track would close permanently on Dec. 31, 2012.

Eaves vowed that Woodbine will continue to press the provincial government to reexamine its decisions.