To "ensure Caesars Windsor remains healthy," the OLG has to remove slot machines from Windsor Raceway, according to chair Paul Godfrey.
The Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation chair confirmed with CBC News that Windsor Raceway will lose its slot machines. It is also removing slots in Fort Erie and Sarnia.
The closures are part of a sweeping OLG plan to expand and "modernize" gambling in the province to help eliminate Ontario's $16-billion deficit by 2017-18.
Godfrey said 240 people will be out of work in Windsor, 560 overall.
The 750 slot machines in Windsor will be removed April 30. The site opened 14 years ago.
"These are not easy times. There are challenges everywhere," Godfrey said.
The OLG's president and CEO, Rod Phillips, broke the news to Windsor Raceway employees early Wednesday morning at a hotel.
"I wanted to be here in person," he said. "I thanked them for their hard work. My heart goes out to them. I wish it didn’t come to this."
The slots in the three communities were temporarily closed all day Wednesday. They will open again Thursday.
"In order to be more responsive to our customers as we modernize our business, we will expand, relocate and contract OLG gaming sites. These three site closures are difficult, but are an important first step. The discussions with key stakeholders regarding potential relocations or new facilities will begin shortly. We will keep employees and the public up to date on our progress," Phillips said in a media release.
Alexandra Fonte has been a slot attendant at the Windsor Raceway since it opened. She said she is a single mother who will now have to collect unemployment.
Fonte claimed the raceway "made money" and was always "on budget."
"They’ve invested how much money into that casino?" she said, alleging the government wants to save Caesars and not the raceway.
Godfrey said the economics have changed since slots arrived at Windsor Raceway 14 years ago.
"The reality is, less people are coming across the border. It has nothing to do with the performance of this team," he said. "We can’t afford to have two facilities within 10 kilometres of each other."
Caesars Windsor 'integral' to OLG
Godfrey said it is "too early" to talk about potential cuts at Caesars Windsor, the city's other gaming facility. Godfrey did say the cuts at the raceway will help sustain the downtown casino.
"Caesars Windsor is a very important and integral part of OLG. We want to make sure we continue to strengthen that," Godfrey said. "We know that the people [who] attend Windsor Raceway would probably move over to the facility at Caesars Windsor."
Caesars Windsor employs approximately 3,500 people.
"We're competing against ourselves," Ontario's finance minister Dwight Duncan said.
The most recent Statistics Canada numbers revealed Windsor had the country's highest unemployment rate at 10.7 per cent in February.
"We understand that. We understand the concerns people have. No one likes to have jobs cuts," Godfrey said.
City councillor Hilary Payne said the news is something Windsor does not need.
"It's just another job loss in Windsor that we can ill-afford," Payne said. "The mayor and the council have been trying very hard to bring new jobs to Windsor; 100 here, 200 there and here are 215 jobs just gone at a fell swoop."
Phillips said the OLG's plan to modernize the province's lottery and gaming sector will create 2,300 net new industry jobs and about 4,000 service sector jobs.
Horse industry affected
Part of slot revenues have previously been used to supply the purse the horse industry races for each night at the track. The government announced Monday it would stop providing that money.
Local members of the horse industry have said for months their industry employs 65,000 people directly or indirectly.
According to a study conducted by Econometric Research Ltd., the horse racing and breeding is credited with being a $2 billion industry for Ontario in 2010. The study also found 31,441 Ontarians owed their permanent jobs to the industry.
Dave Woods makes sulkies for the industry. A sulky is the cart a harness driver rides in while the horse pulls it. Woods said he is already fielding the cancellations of orders because of the Windsor Raceway development.
Godfrey still has confidence in the industry.
"I’m not sure the industry is in peril," Godfrey said. "You have to remember, the decision we make at OLG, we have to take a look at the entire situation."
Godfrey said the province will continue to provide the race industry its share of money from slot revenue until March 31, 2013.
"We’ll fulfil all our obligations in our contract," he said.
Phillips said the fate of the local industry is no longer in the hands in the provincial government.
"That will be a decision for the raceway owner and local horsemen," he said. "There was racing in Windsor before there were slots there."
Brian Tropea, general manager of the Ontario Harness Horse Association, told CBC News that Windsor Raceway is profitable year after year, and that Caesars Windsor is the OLG facility losing money.
Duncan said the slots program generated $345 million for the horse racing industry last year.
"That’s more money than we spend on innovation," Duncan said. "It’s about priorities."
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