The Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. “has failed the people of Ontario miserably,” a city councillor said Tuesday.
“They’ve left us in a mess. A disgraceful mess,” Terry Kett said.
The discussion, to do with Coun. Claude Berthiaume’s motion for a casino to go only at Sudbury Downs, quickly got heated. Several times Mayor Marianne Matichuk reminded councillors to avoid politicking.
Berthiaume explained he was asking council to “throw a lifeline” by approving the motion.
Gaming and horse racing are entwined, the Ward 3 councillor said, and there is “a crisis in the horse-racing industry in this city.”
Approximately two years ago the province ordered the OLG to put a stop to the Slots at Racetracks program. Slots at Racetracks was a revenue-sharing agreement in which Ontario’s 17 racetracks received a certain percentage of revenue from slot machines set up on site.
In place of slot machines, full-fledged casinos were to be built in interested municipalities. This “modernization,” as it was called upon introduction, has yet to materialize.
When Kathleen Wynne took the reins from Dalton McGuinty, she pledged $500 million over five years to help keep horse racing going.
Sudbury Downs doesn’t have a deal yet. The race season is supposed to begin May 24.
According to Sudbury CAO Doug Nadorozny, the OLG said a request for proposals for the northern bundle of casinos (including Sudbury) is set to come out in weeks.
However, he continued, they’ve said that many times.
Coun. Frances Caldarelli has “a lot of sympathy” for Sudbury Downs.
“What this provincial government did, I just haven’t seen anything so inept in many years,” she continued. “They have done a lousy job. There’s no doubt about that. They’ve come and told us they’re going to do all these things. They’ve kept none of their commitments, but we’re expected to keep ours. That’s what’s difficult to swallow.
“Casinos are really on the way down. I don’t think they’re a rising force. Nobody knows quite what to do. As much as I sympathize with the people out at the track … and I think that’s a good place for a casino, I don’t think this is our problem to solve. It’s a problem the OLG really needs to resolve themselves.”
Kett said he couldn’t support Berthiaume’s motion.
“As soon as we do that, we can’t go back. We’re restricted. That’s where we want the casino.
“An OHL arena, or hotel, or convention centre, won’t happen at Sudbury Downs … So for that reason only, I won’t support it.”
Council put off making a decision until it can get the OLG, Sudbury Downs and the Ontario Racing Commission together to provide some answers.
“I was hoping we’d pass this motion and we’d put Sudbury Downs as the area to have the casino,” Berthiaume said after the meeting.
“I don’t think we can split the harness racing and the casino. It has to be together in order for Sudbury Downs to survive. Of course, the industry’s already there. People are already working there, at the slots, right now. We have harness racing. To save their jobs, that’s why I was hoping we would pass this motion tonight. But now we’ll see what happens.”