New deal with province saves Kawartha Downs harness racing

A deal with the province has saved harness racing at Kawartha Downs.
A deal with the province has saved harness racing at Kawartha Downs. Niki Anastasakis/Global News

After years of facing its demise, there will be harness racing at Kawartha Downs, in Fraserville, Ont., in 2019.

Officials with the track say they struck a deal with the province on Sunday — just days after rejecting what was supposed to be the final offer from the Ontario government to save the track.

READ MORE: Kawartha Downs still in dark on how much money it will get from province

“What started off as not a great occurrence, when the deal fell through, we were able to get that deal back on the table,” said Scott McFadden, mayor of Cavan Monaghan Township.  “I spoke with Premier Ford to keep his promise to work with us, and sure enough they got back to the table and by end of day Saturday, the deal was signed off.”

“Just knowing we can race next year is important for people like me who have horses,” said Dave Gibson, local director of Ontario Harness Horse Association (OHHA).  “There’s still some uncertainty.  We don’t know if it’s just one year, or if there is a future for it.  We will take what we can get and be happy with it.”

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“Yesterday (Friday), I shared that despite our government’s best efforts, Kawartha Downs did not accept a deal to keep horse racing going in our community,” said Laurie Scott, minister of Labour and Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes Brock MPP.  “I am pleased to report that continued, pointed conversations have led to Kawartha Downs agreeing to the deal offered.”

The track lost most of its revenue following the cancellation of the Slots at Racetracks program in 2012, which saw a portion of proceeds from the slot machines at the casino funnelled to the track.

“The deal ensures Kawartha Downs stays open.  It looked bleak, the slots were to be removed this week and the track closed by the end of the week,” added McFadden.

READ MORE: Kawartha Downs cancels press conference about its future due to ‘major development’

In March, the Ontario government pledged $105 million a year for the next 19 years, starting in 2019, for horse racing.  However, it was unknown how much each of the 15 tracks in the province would get in funding.

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The initial offer from the province, which was rejected by Kawartha Downs Friday, stated 150 of the 450 slot machines would remain at the track, with the remainder relocating to the new casino in Peterborough, which is slated to open later this fall.

The Township will continue to receive revenue from the slots at the site.  In the past it worked out to about five per cent or a little more than $800,000 per quarter.

Track general manager Orazio Valente told CHEX News he couldn’t speak to the reported deal because he was bound by a non-disclosure agreement.

Terms of the deal haven’t been disclosed.