Rent break may keep Fort Erie track from finish line

February 6, 2013 Updated Feb 6, 2013 at 11:23 AM EDT

By James Fink, Buffalo Business First

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Rent break may keep Fort Erie track from finish line

February 6, 2013 Updated Feb 6, 2013 at 11:23 AM EDT

Fort Erie, Ont. officials hope that a 40-percent drop in rent payments will help convince provincial leaders to keep the historic thoroughbred racing venue open in 2013.

The Fort Erie Live Racing Consortium directors said on Feb. 4 they cut a two-year deal with Nordic Gaming, the Israeli-based landlord of the town's race track, to slash the rent payments they pay for the track to $395,000 from $650,000. The rent reduction is significant because it signals to an Ontario provincial panel that they have found necessary cost savings to keep the track financially viable.

Fort Erie Race Track is financially ailing following last year's decision by the Ontario Lottery & Gaming Corp. to close the slot machine operations at the track. Slot revenues generated more than $6 million annually to the track.

The provincial panel is looking at all 17 horse racing tracks in Ontario, with only two - Woodbine and Mohawk - guaranteed of full 2013 seasons .

Last October, the panel suggested Fort Erie's 2013 season should be limited to 30 live racing dates, something that local officials fear would spell a financial death knell for the 117-year-old track, the oldest thoroughbred racing track in Canada.

Fort Erie officials have been lobbying for a full season but haven't met or heard from the panel since December.

Jim Thibert, Fort Erie Live Racing Consortium general manager, said his group needs a definitive answer by March 31 or the entire season is at risk.