Fort Erie track seeks stability through new proposal - The Buffalo News

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Fort Erie track seeks stability through new proposal

Fort Erie Race Track officials are pitching a multiyear agreement to the province of Ontario that they say would provide the track with longer-term stability.

The nonprofit Fort Erie Live Racing Consortium is requesting a three-year “evergreen” contract covering racing at the facility. In other words, as each new year starts, at least three years of racing seasons would be guaranteed, until the government decides otherwise.

“It’s like three years of advance notice if (the government) wanted to make any changes,” said James Thibert, chief executive officer of the consortium.

Thibert sees the “evergreen” method as a remedy for the year-to-year uncertainty about the track’s future, particularly after the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Commission eliminated slots there in April 2012, eliminating a vital source of revenue.

At least three years of guaranteed racing at the Fort Erie track would instill more confidence in the horse racing industry, which in turn would spur more investment and generate a greater horse supply, Thibert said. It would also provide stability for the employees and community that have an economic stake in the track’s future, and would be better for the fans, he said.

The consortium is requesting the provincial government provide either $8.1 million per year, over the three-year period from 2014 through 2016, to support 400 races at the track, or $9 million per year to support 500 races. Backers hope to have the plan approved no later than Oct. 15, when the current racing season is scheduled to end.

As for the current season, track officials say net earnings to date on a race-by-race basis are up 2 percent, the live on-track handle on a per race basis is up 12 percent, and food and beverage revenue per day is up 13 percent. Program sales per race day are up 55 percent. Thibert estimated track attendance is up about 30 percent, and he says more Americans are coming over to the track.


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