Horse owners, racing fans, and rural citizens in Flamborough and the Greater Hamilton Area are desperately holding on without horseracing at the Flamboro Downs racetrack this summer. The Great Canadian Gaming Corporation, owners of the racetrack, postponed all races until the fall, leaving hundreds of Hamilton horse owners with little to no income for the summer months.
At the same time, the OLG continues discussions with casino operators for a new gambling facility in the Hamilton area. City councilors signed a motion stating their preferred location for a casino is Flamboro Downs. The racetrack is long associated with the community, and rural residents rely on the Downs for their livelihoods. However, councilors agreed to consider other sites if the track is found to “not be a viable site” for a casino.
Flamboro Downs, along with other Ontario racetracks, are struggling to adapt to the modernized gambling industry. The lucrative slots at racetrack revenue sharing program, an agreement with the OLG, was cancelled last year. The OLG’s lease on over 800 slots at Flamboro Downs expired earlier this year on March 31, though both sides are negotiating a temporary extension of the program.
The OLG, with support from the previous administration of the Ontario government, focused its efforts on a modernization strategy involving rapid casino expansion across the province. The shift towards privatized casinos, including one planned for the Hamilton region, marginalized racetracks like Flamboro Downs, which were largely left out of the new strategy.
However, the new Ontario Liberal leadership, facing backlash from rural Ontarians, announced changes to the strategy to reincorporate horseracing into the province’s gambling sector. Philip Olsson was appointed as the new OLG Chairman, who immediately began amending the expansion strategy to create a “better integration with horseracing.”
Olsson supported Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne’s decision to establish the horseracing transition panel, whose mandate is to determine the future of racing in Ontario’s gambling sector. The provincial panel is working in close proximity with city councilors who represent wards with racetracks.
Robert Pasuta, Councilor of Hamilton’s Ward 14 which includes Flamborough, is worried about the livelihoods of his constituents without racing this summer. But Pasuta sees potential from the horseracing transition panel that will result in new ideas to save Flamboro Downs and the horseracing industry at large.
“I don’t think it’s going to be the total doom and gloom that it looked like. I think there are things coming forward.”
The OLG intends to introduce a request for proposal qualification (RFPQ) to examine potential casino operators. The chosen operator will temporarily take over the lease at Flamboro Downs while the selected location for the casino is finalized. The OLG intends to select an operator by early 2014.