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Slots boost monthly tourist visits by 56,000. (Special Report: Sudbury).

Three years ago, the popularity of Sudbury Down's live horse racing was at an all-time low. That is when the Ontario government decided to contact the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. to see how they could create more interest in horse racing, not only here in Sudbury, but across Ontario. Since that time, slot machines have been added to most racetracks in Ontario, including Sudbury Downs. Now, slot machines are located at 15 horse tracks across the province. The one in Sudbury features 330 slot machines that have helped to make it one of Northern Ontario's largest tourist attractions.

"The track was in big financial trouble up until three years ago when the slots came," says Sudbury Down's associate general manager and director of public relations, Dave Shaffer. "Now, there is a lot more money available....the complex itself, including the slots, attracts over 56,000 (visitors) a month and it has become Northern Ontario's largest tourist attraction. They are not all coming for the horse races; they are coming for the slots, they are coming to the restaurant, they are coming to the food concessions, but the numbers show that 56,000 people a month come through our doors."

According to Anne Rappe, a spokesperson with the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp., the slot machines at Sudbury Downs employ 159 people with an estimated payroll, including benefits, of more than $6.1 million annually. She also indicates that since opening on Nov. 26, 1999, the slots have attracted more than 1.6 million visitors, with a daily average of more than 1,600 people. Rappe believes all of those visitors and the money they have spent has added up to big business.

"The facility has been very successful," she says. "It has resulted in more than $5.5 million in non-tax revenue to the City of Greater Sudbury through its share of the five per-cent gross revenue from the slot machines. The city has used those funds to help fund the local hospital capital fund for enhancing roads, purchasing additional fire trucks, etc."

So although the facility at Sudbury Downs cost $12 million to build three years ago, Rappe feels the investment has certainly paid off.

"I would say that it has brought back a lot of benefits to the community," she says. "I think it has brought important financial spin-offs to the local community. The actual operation of the facility creates opportunities for local vendors and suppilers."

Since 1999, parameutual wagering in Ontario has increased 13.5 per cent, Rappe indicates. That has added up to big business for race track slots across the province.

"The revenue of the slots and racetrack facilities helps guarantee $100 million annually for the province's charities and that money is distributed to charities through the Ontario Trillium Foundation," she says. "The whole idea behind the initiative was to boost horse racing attendance and accordingly, the horse racing people and the track owners would share the 20 per cent. So far, the objectives have certainly been met and the program has been quite successful in terms of the impact it has had on horse racing and the thousands of jobs related to the horse racing industry and agriculture sector. There are 45,000 direct and indirect jobs there (in Ontario)."

As for Shaffer, he admits that the slots tend to be more popular than the horse racing and that an exact number of the people they attract for horse racing is difficult to determine.

However, he points out that the Sudbury Downs facility does a lot of cross-over business with visitors who come to play the slots. He says it is also important to note that the race track and horse racing people receive 10 per cent each from the gross revenue that the facility generates. To date, both parties have received $9.96 million each since the slots came to town.

"At this point, there is a lot more interest in horse racing than there has ever been in the last three years and it seems to be on the rebound," Shaffer concludes. "(The horse riders) are racing for more money now than they have ever raced for before ($3,600 to $10,000) and the fact that we are open between six to nine months a year means horsemen are staying here on a full-time basis and using this as a home base, rather than being a nomadic bunch shipping in for a week and then shipping out. So, it means you get a couple hundred more people staying here full time, renting accommodations and living here full time. You have people buying gas and feed for their horses, sending kids to school and doing all kinds of things to support the community."

Sudbury Downs Racetrack, located approximately 25 minutes from downtown Sudbury, was initially started in 1974 by the late J.C. MacIsaac.

The racetrack attracts between 1,200-1,500 people on race nights and employs over 100 local area people, including service people in the food concessions, waiters, housekeeping, ticket sellers, race starters and various other full-time managerial positions and part-time positions. That is all in addition to the horseman, owners, trainers, and drivers that work at the track, as well as various other people that are employed by the Ontario Racing Commission and the Canadian Parameutral Agency to ensure proper regulations are followed at all times.

Shaffer feels the complex has a lot more to offer everybody than just horse racing and slot machines, including the Mardi Gras dining room that seats up to 250 people.
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Author:Ubriaco, Gianni
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Date:Jan 1, 2003
Words:928
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