Kathleen Wynne announced on Friday March 8 that a new slot at racetrack revenue sharing program was granted for eight Ontario racetracks. Today, the Premier officially declared Flamboro Downs as one of those racetracks. Supporters of the Hamilton track are ecstatic with the news, while casino advocates believe the slot commitment ensures the OLG is committed to Flamboro Downs as the location for the proposed Hamilton casino.
The slot revenue sharing program was a mutually beneficial arrangement between Ontario racetracks, the OLG, and the provincial government. The racetracks generated on average $345 million a year from their share of the slots revenue, which the horseracing industry declared as vital for the future of Ontario racetracks. The popular growth of internet sportsbetting and online casinos has directly impacted the business at Ontario racetracks, including Flamboro Downs.
Hamilton councilors argue the track has struggled to maintain its operations in the last few years. Thousands of rural residents in and around Flamborough and the Greater Hamilton Area rely on the racetrack to maintain their livelihoods. The Downs refused to construct horseracing schedules this year because the operators worried without slot revenue, the track would be unmanageable. Now that the slots will remain operational for the next two years, the track can determine its race schedule.
However, Flamborough Councilor Robert Pasuta, whose riding includes The Downs racetrack, believes the government’s new agreement also “makes Flamboro officially viable for a casino.” Hamilton city council has debated the pros and cons of a casino for the last several months including potential revenues, and the gaming facility’s impact on the social community. But most councilors agree that if a casino does come to the Hamilton area, the preferred location is the Flamboro Downs racetrack. Councilors argue the Downs has a history associated with gambling and is a logical choice for expanded gaming program.
Premier Wynne refused to discuss the location of a Hamilton casino, reiterating the decision lies with city council and the provincial government shouldn’t attempt to sway the decision.