Harness racing’s future at Western Fair District, London, remains blurred as OLG (Ontario Lottery and Gaming) has selected Vancouver-based Gateway Casinos & Entertainment Ltd. to take over the day-to-day operations of North and Southwest Gaming Bundles. The private operator unveiled plans to transform OLG’s modest raceway slots venue at London’s Western Fair District into a full-fledged casino. This automatically resulted in local industry-involved people expressing concerns regarding the future of the traditional horse racing operations in the region.
Harness racing is a form of horse racing in which the horses race at a specific gait and pull a two-wheeled cart called a sulky. It is among the most popular spectator sports in the United Kingdom and the country has established its own tradition when it comes to this sport. According to figures, horse racing generates billions for the British coffers per year. The sport dates as far back as Roman times and it is believed to have significantly decreased the unemployment rate in the country.
The Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation has introduced its plans to modernize its worn-out gambling properties and maximize their profitability. Consequently, OLG has started to look for operators to lease some of its facilities. Gateway Casinos & Entertainment Limited inked a deal with OLG to operate slot parlors around the region, including the Western Fair District. The transition was finalized in May this year and the company wasted no time to share its intentions to invest more than $200 million in the region and transform it into all-inclusive casino complex.
Horse Racing Viewed as an Endangered Industry
The operator’s plans made a great fuss among the people, who are somehow involved in the horse racing business. They shared their concerns regarding the industry’s future and the thousands of people, who may lose their jobs. Earlier this month, Gateway Casinos & Entertainment asked London city hall and the Western Fair District to sell, or at least cut the ground-lease rental rates. The operator announced that it is looking for a more reasonable offer. Supposing that the city officials refuse to reconsider the rates, Gateway will most probably abandon its initial plan and redirect its attention. At present, OLG is paying Western Fair $6 million to operate the slots-only gambling parlor.
Five years ago, OLG has announced its decision to cut funding from slots revenue to the industry. This dealt a significant blow to the industry, which was left at life support due to the lack of funds. Hugh Mitchell, the Chief Executive at the Western Fair District, pointed out that the cut of the rent is to finish off the horse racing operations in the region as Western Fair is the second-biggest racing purses in Ontario. Lower ground-lease rental rates would mean less funding and the eventual extinction of horse racing, which is part of the UK’s cultural traditions.