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Weekend meeting crucial for horse racing in Sudbury

Saturday's gathering comes after a meeting held Monday with members of the horse-racing community and John Snobelen and John Wilkinson.
A weekend meeting at Sudbury Downs could determine whether there will be racing at the racetrack this summer. File photo.
Saturday's gathering comes after a meeting held Monday with members of the horse-racing community and John Snobelen and John Wilkinson. The former cabinet ministers are members of a provincial panel struck to negotiate agreements with race tracks on a five-year, $500 million transition funding plan.

“It's a followup to the meeting on Monday with John Snobelen and John Wilkinson,” MacIsaac said, of what will happen Saturday.

The end of the Slots at Racetracks Program in 2012 devastated Ontario racetracks. The tracks relied heavily on a share of revenue from Ontario Lottery and Gaming slot machines, which they have hosted since the 1990s. Former Premier Dalton McGuinty ended the program as he was leaving office, in favour of a casino-building program aimed at substantially boosting provincial revenue.

But the modernization program hurt many rural communities, and when Kathleen Wynne became premier in 2013, the tracks were first offered transitional funding, which allowed racing to continue, although on a much smaller scale.

Her government later announced the five-year funding plan for tracks, and has signed agreements with several of the province's 16 racetracks. Officials with the province have also been meeting with Downs President Pat MacIsaac, who said a decision would have to come soon if there's going to be racing in 2014.

“We're making progress, but the final question still has to be answered,” he said earlier this month. “They've come to agreements with racetracks in southern Ontario, most of them, anyway, but we're still working on them for our track here in Northern Ontario.”

Tentative race dates have been scheduled for several Ontario tracks, including the Downs. Assuming a deal is reached, 32 races would be held this year, beginning May 24 and continuing each Saturday until Oct. 11.

Races would also be held Wednesday evenings from June 18 until Aug. 27. The number of races each season would increase to 34 in 2015; 36 in 2016; 38 in 2017; and 40 in 2018, the final year of the agreement.

Nickel Belt MPP France Gélinas raised the issue in the Ontario Legislature this week, asking Wynne why Sudbury Downs was still without a deal past the April 1 deadline — especially with the first tentative race day a little more than a month away.

"Despite this deadline, Sudbury Downs, the only track in Northern Ontario, still does not have an agreement, leaving the track owners, the trainers, the groomers, the vets, the farmers, and everybody else who works at or around Sudbury Downs, in limbo," Gélinas said.

"Families are at risk of having to sell their farms, and employees don’t know if they have a job ... When will the premier deliver on the promise that she made a year ago, in Sudbury, to the people of Sudbury, that she wants a vibrant horse-racing industry in Sudbury?"

In response, Wynne said a deal would likely be in place soon and accused Gélinas of asking questions now so she could claim some credit when the agreement is final.

“There are ongoing negotiations,” Wynne said. “My expectation is that we will have good news and that we will have racing at all of the tracks in the province.

“That agreement won’t be in place because of the questions she has asked. The agreement will be in place because of the process that we’ve put in place, because of the money that we are investing in the horse-racing industry and the commitment that I made to have a sustainable horse-racing industry in the province.”

Darren MacDonald

About the Author: Darren MacDonald

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