Day At The Track

Commission rejects bid by Kawartha Downs

03:48 AM 26 Oct 2017 NZDT
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Clarke Steacy, harness racing
Driver Clarke Steacy directs Party Beach to the winners circle in the first race as Kawartha Downs opens its harness racing season on Saturday May 27, 2017 in Fraserville, Ont.
Clifford Skarstedt Photo

FRASERVILLE - Tuesday will go down as a "sad day" for harness racing and Kawartha Downs after officials learned an application to double the length of its season next year to offset an 85 per cent loss of revenue from the moving Shoreline Slots was denied, general manager Orazio Valente said.

The Ontario Racing Commission (ORC) informed him late Tuesday afternoon that funding for the requested increase to 40 horse racing dates in 52 weeks, up from 18 cards in 2017, is not available within the current framework.

That framework is the underlying issue, Valente said. It never contemplated the situation Kawartha Downs is now in - a position other Ontario racetracks that have slots will soon be in as well.

"The framework has to change ... you can't have a place that received 85 per cent of its funding from rental ... and take it out and hope the void is filled. That doesn't happen," he said. "What happens to the funding formula when a casino decides to relocate away from the horsetrack? That's the problem we are facing right now."

The 2018 season will be crucial for Kawartha Downs since the Shorelines Slots at Kawartha Downs are expected to close around October 2018 once the Shorelines Casino Peterborough opens at The Parkway and Crawford Drive.

The disappointment of Tuesday's news is shared equally by fans, trainers and about 150 staff who work at the facility - many of them have been employed there since it opened in 1972.

"You can appreciate that there has been a lot of uncertainty for our employees that is shared by everyone," said Valente, who pointed out how employees remained professional and optimistic while waiting to learn the decision.

The application was about viability, he said, adding that a successful application "would have been a start," but others "stars would have to align" as well.

The provincial government has said it supports horse racing and now it is time for officials to "show their true intentions," Valente said.

As for the next step, he said Kawartha Downs officials will try to engage various government agencies - including Ontario Lottery and Gaming, which decides race purses - to determine if there is "will ... and ability" to come up with funding.

"Otherwise, we are going to have to put in place contingency plans," said Valente, who took over as general manager earlier this year when the Fraserville track went into receivership.

Late last month, Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Minister and Peterborough MPP Jeff Leal said four other Ontario tracks face the same dilemma and that he was seeking a solution.

"We're looking at options right now to see what we can do to keep those race tracks whole beyond 2019, 2020 and 2021," he told The Examiner. "The leasing dollars generated are a key part of the financial model and we need to look at options as to how we might be able to backfill that amount of money."

Leal said off-track betting is one option being discussed. He said he'd like to explore the option of Shorelines Casino keeping some slot machines at the track. Another option is for the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation to create a special category for race tracks without a casino to significantly lower their tax rates.

A 40-date season would have meant races every Saturday night from March to December, up from the May to September season of the past few years but less than the twice-weekly year-round season the track had when it received a cut of the Ontario Lottery and Gaming revenues from the Slots at Kawartha Downs before the provincial government eliminated the revenue sharing deal in 2013.

-- with files from Mike Davies, Examiner Sports Director

By Jason Bain, The Peterborough Examiner

Reprinted with permission of The Peterborough Examiner

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