There was an apocalyptic vibe coming from the crowd of horsemen speaking out on plans for a new casino and the province’s decision to end its partnership with the horse-racing industry.
“Thousands of horses will die,” said racehorse owner Stuart MacKenzie outside Tom Davies Square lobby. He owns two horses and said his trainer will be moving back to his native Ohio as he expects work to dry up soon.
“I’ve been at Sudbury Downs 30 years, but I won’t be able to last after this shameful action by the McGuinty government,” MacKenzie said.
Earlier this year, the provincial government said it would close the Slots at Racetracks program — including one at Sudbury Downs– and replace them with casinos. The horse racing industry gets a share in the revenue generated by the Slots at Racetracks program and officials say it can’t survive without the money.
City of Greater Sudbury economic development director Ian Wood tried to explain the process the province and Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation are undertaking to build and open new casinos. With few firm details and dates on a timeline, the crowd of horse-racing industry supporters wasn’t satisfied with the answers it got.
As a few speakers pointed out, no one from the province or OLG were present to answer questions.
They don’t seem to be planning on hosting a public input session soon, either.
Another horse-racing supporter said the province was making a big mistake by ending its support of an industry that creates jobs and generates taxes in Ontario in favour of working with an American casino company.
“It’s not local, it goes from Manitoulin Island all the way past North Bay,” said one woman about the industry in the province.
Another speaker said it was insulting for the province to come into a municipality and decide where a big project like a casino will be going.
“You’ll do what the OLG tells you to do,” one man said to Wood.
City council has formally supported the idea of a casino project that would include a conference centre and hotel amenities in one of four locations: the downtown, the ex isting casino location at Sudbury Downs, on The Kingsway east of Barrydowne Road and in the Four Corners area.
Another speaker said the downtown area would not benefit from a casino. “People won’t leave the casino to eat in restaurants around it. We don’t even know what the profit sharing agreement will look like,” the man said.
Neither OLG or the province has come out with that cost-sharing agreement yet. They have previously said it would come in the spring.
As for who gets to build a casino — and where — that still has to be decided.
The province will put out a request to pre-qualify gaming companies interested in building in Sudbury. From that list, the province will pick three candidates who will then submit a proposal for a location they see as most attractive. OLG and representatives from the province will then decide on a winning bid.
The request for prequalification was expected to come this fall, but will now be released in December.
MacKenzie said the province has no time to waste to figure out how to help the horse-racing industry.
“The agreement for slots at racetracks ends in March, even if they build that new casino at the Downs, it won’t be ready in three months,” MacKenzie said.
One women inside council chamber suggested that young people may not be into horse-racing and may prefer concerts and shows. She was drowned out by the comments of another woman, speaking in favour of horse racing.
After the presentation, Wood said he couldn’t give a time-line when the process would end, since it hasn’t really begun yet.
“The request for pre-qualific at i o n s have been pushed back, so who knows?”