By Alex Campbell
An executive with Woodbine Entertainment Group has told local officials its Woodbine racetrack will not survive if slot machines are removed from the facility in March of next year.
In speaking with the City of Toronto’s executive committee, including Mayor Rob Ford, WEG vice president of corporate affairs Jane Holmes warned that 6,000 jobs could be lost if Woodbine were to close as a result of the cancellation of the slots-at-racetracks program.
“If the slots were removed from Woodbine, you would see the end of Woodbine racetrack in Toronto,” Holmes said.
The Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. already informed all 17 of the province’s racetracks, including Woodbine, that their slots operations will close March 31, 2013. Slots locations at three tracks, including Fort Erie Racetrack & Slots, have already closed.
The OLG, along with the Ontario government, is looking to place a full-scale resort casino in the Greater Toronto Area, preferably along Toronto’s waterfront, but won’t force a municipality to build a casino if they don’t want one.
Toronto’s executive committee met May 14 to discuss the benefits and risks of the casino project. Holmes, speaking on behalf of WEG, lobbied the committee on the Woodbine location, saying the track is ready to take on the project if city council decides it wants to house a casino in Toronto.
“For all intents and purposes, Woodbine is viewed by many as a casino,” Holmes told the committee. “We have the space for it. We don’t have any close neighbors. We’re sort of isolated so it’s not going to be in someone’s back yard.
“We have six million visitors that already come to Woodbine, and we believe that it would be a natural extension to have a full casino at our site.”
Ford, who used to represent the Woodbine area on the city council before becoming mayor, agreed Woodbine would be a good place to accommodate the new project. But he pointed out that all options need to be considered. As a result, Ford and the executive committee have asked city staff to report back in October on whether the provincial capital should pursue a casino or not, and if so, which location would be best suited for the project.
In the meantime, Ontario horsemen will have to continue operating their day-to-day businesses uncertain of what’s to come. Breeders in the province are struggling to figure out what to do with their mares, and with the chance a resolution won’t come until fall, the September yearling sale at Woodbine could also face declines.
Members of the industry are hoping their leaders and government officials can come together quickly to figure out a solution before it’s too late.
“We need to get around the table; we’ve had no forewarning of this,” said Ontario-based bloodstock agent and breeder Bernard McCormack. “We’ve got September, which is our market month, and we need to have some kind of certainty going into that market. It may not be what it was before, but it needs to be something where we’re moving forward in a positive direction.
“At the end of the day, in any business model you need some kind of certainty. Right now we have no certainty and that’s very, very scary.”