'We'll start praying' says Windsor Raceway employee

The Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation's decision to close slots facilities at three horse racing tracks has left employees and those in the horse industry in limbo.

Union, mayor, employees all question OLG's decision to close slots facilities

The Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation's decision to close slots facilities at three horse racing tracks has left employees and those in the horse industry in limbo.

Slot machine facilities at Windsor Raceway, Fort Erie and Hiawatha Horse Park in Sarnia are being permanently closed April 30.

Rod Phillips, the OLG's president, and OLG chair Paul Godfrey made the announcement Wednesday.

Employees in Windsor were told of the decision early Wednesday morning.

"I feel sick," said Windsor Raceway janitor Wayne Markowsky, who has been employed at Windsor Raceway for 14 years. "I'm turning 57. I gotta look for a new job. It’ll be tough. But the good Lord will take care of us. We'll start praying."

Alexandra Fonte has been a slot attendant at the raceway since it opened in 1998. Between tears, 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."

Markowsky said the same thing.

"We met our budgets. If we made our budget, we got our bonus. We did it," Markowsky said. "It's just business."

Markowsky's wife also works at the raceway.

"That’s a double whammy in our household," he said.

Union decries decision

According to the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, 215 jobs have been eliminated at Windsor Raceway's slots. The job loss includes 31 security guards belonging to OPSEU Local 111.

"The Ontario government needs to address its revenue problem by implementing a fair and progressive tax system," said OPSEU president Warren Thomas. "Cutting jobs does not help our province's bottom line."

Members of the horse industry have said for months their industry employs 65,000 people directly or indirectly.

David 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.

"As soon as rumours came out, I was getting calls almost instantly," Woods said. "I had a lot of orders just sitting there waiting to see what was going on. They definitely aren’t going to pan out. There's $10,000 dollars in those cancellations."

Taras Natyshak, Ontario NDP MPP for Essex, expressed concern for the people of Windsor, Sarnia and Fort Erie after the OLG’s announcement.

"The government says that shuttering slots in border communities will save money but they’re not talking about the devastating economic fallout this will bring to Windsor, Sarnia and Fort Erie" Natyshak said in a media release. "They’re ignoring the basic cost to people whose jobs depend on supporting these facilities."

Natyshak was disappointed with the lack of public consultation in the communities that now have to live with the consequences of the decision.

Sarnia mayor calls OLG 'morally bankrupt'

About 140 slot employees will lose their jobs in Sarnia.

The owner of Sarnia's horse park said the future of the 122 people he employs is also in jeopardy.

The move shocked Jim Henderson.

"I don't understand what we did wrong. We made more money for the province, we brought more people to work, we brought more jobs, we got more kids hired, we got more students, and yet we've got nothing going," he said. "My staff is all sitting here and they've all got their head down - what do we do?"

Henderson said he's invested $20 million into the facility and had a hotel company interested in building on site.

He said he has no idea what will happen when the slots pull out at the end of April.

Mayor Mike Bradley said it's unbelievable OLG would close what he called a profitable slot location.

He called OLG "morally bankrupt" for the way it handled the closure, saying the corporation never bothered to contact Hiawatha's owner to tell him.