OJC to buy Hastings Park, create new OTB network

The Ontario Jockey Club has announced a deal to buy Hastings Park Racecourse and build 10 off-track betting parlors in metropolitan Vancouver in partnership with two other British Columbia racetracks.

A price was not disclosed, but the OJC has agreed to pay $6.2 million in debt owed by the Pacific Racing Association to the British Columbia provincial government. The PRA owns and operates the 113-year-old Hastings Park.

The deal is the heart of a master plan to rejuvenate British Columbia's racing industry. The plan calls for the OJC in partnership with Orangeville Raceway, which operates Fraser Downs near Cloverdale and Sandown Park near Victoria, to spend about $9 million over the next five years on a network of OTBs around Vancouver. Right now, Vancouver does not have any OTBs. Provincial law says teletheaters cannot be closer than 80 kilometers from the city, according to Phil Heard, general manager of Hastings Park. The plan also proposes a new dual-breed racetrack in the lower mainland area near Vancouver that will offer live racing and slot machines.

"Ontario was in a similar position to B.C.'s racing industry in 1994," said David Willmot, president and chief executive officer of the OJC. "When you are faced with major challenges, the best solution is to work with the entire industry to map our an innovative plan for the future."

Heard said the deal promises tremendous growth for both Ontario's and British Columbia's racing industries.

"This is an excellent pari-mutuel market," said Phil Heard, general manager for Hastings Park. "With the time difference, we are a good bridge between some of the OJC products."

The OJC and PRA now take their plan to the British Columbia government, which must approve several changes for the deal to close. The government must agree to dissolve the government-created PRA, agree to accept the OJC's $6.2 million debt payment, agree to allow OTBs in metropolitan Vancouver, and transfer PRA's racing dates to the OJC.

Heard said he expects the proposals will be pitched to government officials within the first couple weeks of February. He said the government could approve the changes by as early as the end of February.