Future of Elora harness track remains in question
Published Tuesday, February 26, 2013 3:57PM EST
Last Updated Tuesday, February 26, 2013 6:40PM EST
With the clock counting down to the start of the horse racing season, Grand River Raceway in Elora still has no idea how often it will be able to open its doors this year – if at all.
“We don’t know how many days we will race. We don’t know how many races we’ll have per day. We don’t know any of the facts that we need to make proper plans,” says facility general manager Ted Clarke.
Ever since the raceway opened in 2003, it was able to use revenue from slot machines to help keep the track afloat financially.
But in early 2012, the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. announced that slots at racetracks were on their way out – if not the machines themselves, at least the revenue-sharing agreements which had been so beneficial to Grand River Raceway and a number of other tracks.
Dwight Duncan, then the province’s finance minister, painted it as a question of priorities.
“When you’re faced between choosing additional home care services versus horse racing … you have to have priorities in this day and age,” he said last March.
Protests at MPPs’ offices and Queen’s Park weren’t enough to convince the government to restore the program, only to land the industry a bit of transitional funding.
Racetracks across the province will receive up to $50 million over the next year to help them through the transition -- but that’s down from the $345 million the industry received annually from the slots.
“Now we’re adjusting to a transition program which, unfortunately, isn’t very clear yet at this point in time,” says Clarke.
Many racetracks have negotiated rental agreements with the OLG, allowing them to keep the machines in exchange for a set fee.
Although the fee is much smaller than what the tracks received under the revenue-sharing agreement, the tracks see it as better than getting nothing.
Grand River Raceway has yet to finalize a rental agreement of its own.