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Fort Erie Live Racing Consortium
Fort Erie and Fort Erie Race Track: Implications and Proposal to Province on OMAFRA Transition Panel Final Report.

Yesterday, (October, 31, 2012) the Ontario Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs released the Horse Racing Industry Transition Panel Final Report.

While this is an extensive evaluation of the current horse racing industry in Ontario (being thoroughbred racing, standardbred racing and quarter horse racing) along with a plan for the modernization toward sustainability of the industry it also turns out to be a decision-making instrument of the province that has dire consequences for the Fort Erie racetrack, its employees, its Horsepeople, and service suppliers and most of all its fans of racing both in Ontario and Western New York. The consequence which in turn contributes more weight to the already burgeoning negative load the Provincial decisions and policies impacting the town of Fort Erie - every one developed without proper (if any) consultation or apparent regard to the economic impact future of those decisions on the economy of the constituents of Fort Erie.(ie. urban service boundaries, PSW's, industrial lands, hospital, etc, etc).

First let me reiterate what I said about six weeks ago when the transition panel had concluded its initial interviews and when it submitted its interim plan. Our opinion has not changed, and in fact in many ways through this final report we agree almost wholeheartedly with 99.9% of their findings and recommendations.

We wholeheartedly agree and were the first and most consistent and most constant supporters of;
1) Forcing the tracks into an organization that truly reflected an industry.
2) Pooling some of the resources for promoting the horse racing industry as a whole and not just relying on whether a tracks marketing success was fully dependent on a small-market budget.
3) Pooling the provincial resources from slots for the betterment and use of an industry wide plan for racing rather than the status quo which was solely predicated on market share areas that made absolutely no sense and no fairness. For example, why did Woodbine get a market area of 4 1/2 million people in Fort Erie market area of 400,000, is it any wonder why over the years Woodbine becomes A track and Fort Erie remains suppressed to a B track?
4) Our MPP, Kim Craitor worked for the past three years with our MP, Rob Nicholson on the concept of Fort Erie as a pilot project for sportsbet and so we support that however point out that the panel has stolen the concept application everywhere but Fort Erie.
5) Driving the entire business model around consumer demand and building fan base again, something that Fort Erie developed in their business model three years ago and has been consistently proving each and every race day since, consistently beating previous year performance.
We also wholeheartedly agree with the findings and recommendations in the final report for exploring new horseracing lottery, to allow Ontario race tracks to offer historical racing products (in USA called "Instant Racing") , to use the new net revenues as a means to offset future public investment of live racing, to provide initial and transitional capital investment to the racetracks provided the funding goes to improvement of the race track, and for the most part race date reductions in order to get the new live racing industry back on its feet and into a more sustainable structure.
6) We agree with and have been the industry leader in the panel's goal for creating, through our not-for-profit community-based Corporation, the intrinsic goals for public-interest principles of accountability, transparency, the renewed focus on the consumer and a return of each dollar invested by the government and in our case all earned revenues, to the race industry and ultimately to Government through either taxes, commissions, HST, or job creation.

And I want to point out that while the average slot dollars purse money is 63%, that Fort Erie is the leader in revenue driven purses at less than 48%.

So upon review and close critical evaluation of the final report, it is perplexing to wonder why the panel has decided that the Fort Erie race business is dead, closed...done forever! In fact, the business should be transferred to another track, specifically denoted as Ajax Downs.

“How is that possible?” one could ask…how three intelligent, past ministers, MPP's, educated and caring panel members so callously write off Fort Erie Race Track, 115 years of history, all the more than 250 jobs, one of the biggest employers in the area and the entire horse industry of Niagara? Well...it seems self-evident in the report that they assumed Fort Erie was closing on its own. We have no doubt after having met with the panel that they know who we are, what we stand for, what are performance goals are, what we have achieved and the importance to both the horse industry and the community and rural Ontario...because they told us those very same things.

Perhaps it's because the HBPA (Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association) in their submission to the panel failed to properly represent their members in Fort Erie by writing off trackoperations. Perhaps because after the initial report when the panel requested additional time, they did not indicate renewed consultations (but apparently that occurred). In looking at the final report stakeholder list, everyone's on there, with the exception of Fort Erie. We were never invited back for subsequent stakeholder discussions. The HBPA did not advise its members in Fort Erie the second round of discussions were taking place, and would not involve them or promote their interests. That, as constitutional members of the FELRC (Fort Erie Live Racing Consortium), they would not have the courtesy to advise us of either their plans initially for that submission, which threw Fort Erie under the bus, or subsequent discussions with the panel on the future of racing, but clearly did not represent Fort Erie. Or that as partners to an agreement with the track to race for the past three years they would, during the tenure of that contract not live up to its obligations to disclose significant decisions and actions that would have any effect let alone a completely negative effect on its partners of Fort Erie.

Perhaps as well, the panel came to that decision made public by the Minister without apparently any consultation with our MPP was steadfastly supported the community of Fort Erie and the racing community for the past four years. In fact, throughout this entire process thrust upon the racing community to the Drummond report and the OLG decisions of last March, our MPP, Kim Craitor was looked to by the entire racing industry, including OHRIA, HBPA and standardbred associations, as the leader of the Liberal caucus to support the future of the horse racing industry in Ontario, not one of those players even providing them with a heads-up on what's happening or what could happen to his own communities.
None of this bodes well for the Government's goal of trying to co-opt the various tracks and Horsepeople organizations into a cohesive industry... save and except the money they are making available as an enticement. Hopefully for the province, and hopefully for the industry, the goals the Panel and the Province will be met over time and we will see stabilization, a modernization and the sustainability to the industry. Of course, all that will have to be developed on a performance basis predicated on good business decisions and all of which must be fair, straight up and honest.

So, and assuming that the panel and the province honestly want to meet those goals and with all due respect to both those agencies, then let me take this opportunity to provide our presentation in the form of open consultation that was neglected in the second round of panel discussions with the goal of providing honest, fair and transparent information that I'm sure any reasonable person would see as logical arguments for sustaining Fort Erie Race Track on the business case basis.

So let's clear up some confusion, and put forward the business facts:
• Fort Erie does not have to sell the race track property in order to continue racing. The idea behind finding a purchaser for the property is to find one who is more willing than the current owner to develop this prime 338 acres into a major destination attraction right on the QEW, next to Buffalo New York, less than 10 min. from Niagara Falls and less than 90 min. from downtown Toronto. That goal would yield more traffic on-site and additional reasons for consumers and tourists to attend the track and patronize Fort Erie.

• With the concepts and principles expressed in the panel report Fort Erie Race Track could well survive, if not prosper immediately, with significant stability and future growth.
• The panel should reconsider the decision on Ajax Downs in favour of Fort Erie for the following reasons: the future of the quarter horse industry would be better served at Fort Erie, we have three years of successful quarter horse racing at Fort Erie and have a proven record of significantly outperforming Ajax Downs in terms of pari-mutuel wagering results. If purses and racing are to be predicated on sustainability to pari-mutuel wagering how is it possible to make a decision.so obviously in favour of the proven track record of Fort Erie in this regard?
• Further, Fort Erie has the boarding/stalling capability for 1,200 horses, whereas Ajax Downs has only recently added a very small component.
• Fort Erie as a complete backstretch, so vital for the operations of the race track, while Ajax Downs has literally none. Fort Erie could split the backstretch under the current plans for reduced race schedules easily, 50-50, with thoroughbred racing and accommodate both industries and future growth.
• Fort Erie can offer full training facilities seven days a week, while Ajax has very limited facilities.
• The longer quarter horse races (i.e. 870¡¦s require a ¡§hook¡¨ on the track and major run-out area that Ajax Downs cannot accommodate).
• Fort Erie has proper and experienced starting gate crews, professional clockers on-site, veterinarian¡¦s on-site, full male and female jockeys quarters, valets, briefs Jockey and tack.
• Fort Erie has a full and certified security department and round-the-clock security on the backstretch.
• Fort Erie has a centralized race office and racing Secretary proven and experienced in both thoroughbred and quarter horse racing. Indeed our racing secretary has the most experience and connections to the North American Quarter Horse industry by far.
• Fort Erie already has a proven professional marketing and special events department for both breeds, and proven centralized marketing coordination for both thoroughbred and quarter horse events and advertising.
• Fort Erie has a very experienced simulcast manager and department and proven capabilities of handling, on a centralized basis, both thoroughbred and quarter horse simulcast. Fort Erie simulcasts its product throughout North America, into Central and South America, Africa and Europe.
• Fort Erie has a larger and more capable simulcast facility as compared to Ajax Downs.
• Fort Erie has a larger racing surface and a modern track. It is the only remaining thoroughbred dirt track in Ontario, and we also have a fabulous turf track.
• Fort Erie has a safer racing surface and we have experienced and professional race support teams.
• To appeal to a broader community of fans, food and beverage operations and special events are absolutely necessary and Fort Erie has been proving over the past three years that in these areas we excel in innovation, ideas and fan acceptance. Our Tiki-Bar and our very successful twilight racing are examples.
• As far as accountability and transparency are concerned, Fort Erie does not have to reach a goal as we epitomize the ideal. The FELRC, since its inception as a community-based not-for-profit Corporation, included the major stakeholders of the HBPA, the town of Fort Erie, the EDTC of Fort Erie, the head of the SEIU union, the MPP and the ORC as oversight for the province.

Fort Erie would not a recommend a cutback so severe as to the 30 days racing proposed by the panel because, for racing to succeed, Horsepeople need to be able to make a return on their investment in rearing and training horses for live racing. However, given the very great thoughts that went into this report, the 30 days of racing (if carefully planned and executed), combined with 30 days of quarter horse racing (in innovative iterations) can succeed and can be economical in Fort Erie. Our deliberations with senior staff yesterday concludes that it is both doable and desirable.

Fort Erie would also be eligible for the public investment which would allow us to specify tell the Province what improvements we would need to capital in order to upgrade the facilities, provide for modifications necessary for the adoption of new on-site gaming products, new fan based events, backstretch improvements and consumer oriented improvements.

Clearly Fort Erie is in the best business position to immediately engage all the principles put forward by the panel and the Province for sustainable operations and potential growth, (with our goal being towards 90 days of racing if we can prove it effective and marketable. All of which would be eminently more business savvy than the risk of trying to establish first time thoroughbred racing in an area and at a track that have not the experience, not facilities, not the market, and would duplicate major capital costs and major staffing costs while creating a redundancy in both.

So, in light of the fact the Panel made its decision in the Final Report based on misinformation as it relates to Fort Erie, the FELRC, specifically myself, senior staff, our SEIU member, the Mayor and the MPP would be pleased to receive an invitation by the panel to begin negotiations in order to meet the deadline of December 1, 2012 contract to secure the future of live thoroughbred and quarter horse racing in Fort Erie to the obvious benefit of the Ontario horse racing industry.

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