Slot machines will stay at the Rideau-Carleton Raceway despite the province cancelling its Slots at the Raceway program.
The Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation announced on Jan. 23 that it has reached agreements to lease space for its slot machines at eight of the sites that currently offer slots, including Rideau-Carleton. The expiry date of the lease agreement hasn’t been confirmed, but OLG spokesperson Tony Bitonti said the agreements average in length between three and five years.
“(The agreements) do vary from racetrack to racetrack because we’re going into a landlord-tenant agreement, whereas before all the racetracks got 10 per cent of revenue and all the horse associations got 10 per cent,” Bitonti said. “It’s not a clean and dry formula like it was before.”
Some racetracks operate their own food and beverage services, for example, while other don’t, Bitonti said. He would not confirm details of the agreements because the parties have yet to sign final contracts.
Nepean-Carleton MPP Lisa MacLeod said she believes the agreements are only meant to last until the OLG is able to act on its plan to build casinos in urban areas, including downtown Ottawa - effectively cannibalizing the racetrack.
“While on the surface it seems OK, it’s just extending the inevitable,” MacLeod said. “Nobody should take any comfort in this. It’s only going to prolong the transition.”
MacLeod has been vocal about saving the province’s racetracks since last March, when the provincial government announced it was cutting the Slots at Racetracks revenue sharing program as of March 31, 2013.
“It doesn’t take away the fact that the OLG wants a downtown casino,” she said. “And the minute that happens the slots are ripped out of the racetrack.”
Cancelling the Slots at the Racetracks program was intended to save $345 million, Ontario Liberals said, which could be better spent on health care and education. Ending the program is part of OLG’s gambling modernization plan that would put gaming facilities in 23 urban centres across the province. Ottawa’s city council voted to support in principle the idea of putting a new casino in Ottawa.
After OLG issues a request for developers interested in building and running a casino here, Ottawa residents will have a chance to comment on the plans. City council could veto a casino if it doesn’t like the proposed location.
Bitonti said the Rideau-Carleton Raceway is fully able to take part in the OLG’s plan to bring a casino to Ottawa, and any decisions about where a new facility might be located would be decided between the private sector investor, the city and the OLG.
“When we choose a private sector operator, they will take over the day to day operation of the existing facility and then decisions will have to be made,” Bitonti said. “In many cases the slots facilities, the gaming operations, will stay exactly where they are.”
He recognized the OLG wants to locate its gaming facilities in populated areas, rather than rural regions.
“We want to make sure our products are where the customers are, and in some cases where the racetracks are that’s not the case,” he said. “Some of them are in the perfect location.”
Over the past five years, the city has received between $4.3 and $4.4 million each year from 12,050 slot machines at the Rideau Carleton Raceway. A new agreement signed in November would put an additional $1.3 million into the city’s coffers annually if slot revenue remains the same.
The agreement means the city gets 5.25 per cent of the first $65 million of net slot revenue, three per cent on the next $135 million, 2.5 per cent of the next $300 million and half a per cent of the remainder of net slot revenue.
The gambling modernization plan is intended to increase net revenue to the province by $1.3 billion annually, create 2,300 net new industry jobs and about 4,000 service sector jobs and spur more than $3 billion in capital investment across Ontario.
In August, members from all three political parties supported a private member’s motion from MacLeod calling for the provincial auditor general to review the decision to scrap the program.
The Rideau-Carleton Raceway could not be reached for comment by press time.