Fort Erie unhappy with slots decision, but there still may be hope

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As the dust begins to settle on the Fort-Erie-Race-Track-declining-slots-fiasco, residents continue to reel from the situation.

Although some are questioning the sincerity of the deal, the Ford government remains adamant that the offer presented was equitable and made in good faith.

Sam Oosterhoff, Niagara’s only Ontario PC Party representative at Queen’s Park, said he understands the disappointment of Fort Erie residents.

“I too am disappointed for Fort Erie”, said the Niagara West MPP. “However, ultimately, an offer to return the slots was made and [the FELRC] chose to accept the alternative”.

Oosterhoff is correct. Yet, the people of Fort Erie have been left wondering why an offer was even made at all. Why was money in lieu of machines put on the negotiating table?

Many took to social media to vent their frustration and puzzlement, as well as speculate.

Retired Toronto Star reporter and author Cal Millar wrote on Twitter, “I haven’t spoken to any residents in the community who were opposed to the return of slot machines. I thought it was a done deal when Premier Ford promised slots would be coming back to tracks across the province, including Fort Erie.”

Town Council candidate Michael Reles called the choice to accept money over slots “reckless”.

Several people on Facebook implied the decision was made in order to keep the value of the track down, so that the FELRC could more easily purchase the facility in the future (the track’s American owners put the property on the market in April for $7.2 million).

Others on Facebook referred to the deal as “shady” and “disrespectful” and demanded that the consortium’s CEO, Jim Thibert, be held to account.

The town’s mayor has been relentless in his calls for Thibert’s involvement in the decision to be reviewed.

Redekop said that the organization’s CEO – who also serves as general manager of Fort Erie’s Economic Development and Tourism Corporation (EDTC) – had a major conflict of interest in the dealings.

As head of the EDTC, Thibert’s duty is to generate growth and create job opportunities in the town. By declining slots in his role as CEO of the FELRC, Thibert neglected the mandate of the EDTC.

An emergency meeting was held on Oct. 2 between a handful of FELRC members, led by Jim Thibert, and the OLG. The Town and other local officials were not informed.

The riding’s NDP MPP, Wayne Gates, was one such public official left out of the loop.

On Monday, Gates stood up in Ontario’s legislative assembly to lambast the Ford government for not including an elected representative in the discussions.

“I’ve been fighting for that track for five years, and to make sure they get the slots”, Gates said. “For five years, I’ve been clear: the future of the Fort Erie Race Track must include slots”.

Chuck McShane, Gates’ Ontario PC Party opponent during June’s election, called the whole situation “a missed opportunity”.

“I don’t like how this all turned out”, said McShane. “Over the coming months, I’m going to serve as a liaison and try to bring together Queen’s Park, Fort Erie, and the track’s owners. We need to remedy this situation”.

If a new deal can be renegotiated, Fort Erie may still have a chance to see slot machines back at the track sometime in the near future.

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