Fort Erie Poised to Close in 2009

Fort Erie poised to close in 2009.

The owners of Fort Erie Race Track, which is the home of the second leg of the Canadian Triple Crown, have announced they will likely close the Ontario location by March 31, 2009.

Nordic Gaming Corp., which has owned Fort Erie for the last nine years, announced an immediate layoff of 190 employees, with the remaining 110 or so workers scheduled for termination on March 31, 2009.

In a statement, Nordic Gaming said the decision to shutter the 111-year-old track was a difficult one, but necessary in the light of economic and regulatory challenges.

“Nordic has, and continues to work, with all of the stakeholders, including the various unions and their members,” read the statement in part. “However, the company is unable to continue to absorb the substantial operating losses year after year, and hence, the reason for the decision to begin preparing for closure.”

Fort Erie, which has been the home of the middle jewel of the Canadian Triple Crown, the Prince of Wales Stakes (Can-I), has lost between $4 million and $7 million annually, according to the Toronto Star. A $300 million commercial/residential development announced in 2007, which was scheduled to break ground in 2009, has been put on hold, the paper reported.

Nordic Gaming said it will “pursue every effort” to continue racing in 2009, but chose the timing of its announcement to comply with Canadian labor regulations. The company also said it had notified the Ontario Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, and the Ontario Racing Commission. Fort Erie conducted 80 live racing dates in 2008.

The announcement is "a sad, sad day for Thoroughbred horse racing in Ontario and for all those whose livelihood depended on Fort Erie Racetrack," Sue Leslie, president of the Ontario Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, told the Star.

Fort Erie is also the home of 1,200 slot machines, which were opened in 1998.