News | Montreal horse racing on last legs

The possibility that the land occupied by the Hippodrome de Montreal may become transformed into public housing is quickly slipping away.

Attractions Hippiques halted live races at the Hippodome when forced to file for bankruptcy protection in late June after steady losses and was hoping to build a larger complex north of Montreal. However, the company’s restructuring plan, due in October, is now likely to include plans for a redevelopment of the current Hippodrome, previously known as Blue Bonnets Racetrack in the Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce (CDN–NDG) borough.

The current site, totalling 55 hectares is being eyed by the local Côte-des-Neiges Community Council, which proposed that the land be used to construct 2,500 public housing units. Though Attractions Hippiques runs the Hippodrome, the land is owned by the provincial government through the Societé Nationale du Cheval de Course.

Michel Therrien, communications press agent for the borough, noted that no firm plans have been made.

“It’s a complex topic, and there are too many players, [although] there will be a community consultation when we’ve got a plan,” said Therrien.

Therrien pointed to Liberal Senator Paul Massicotte, who owns Attractions Hippiques, as the main reason that no projects are in the works.

“This guy is already sitting on the chair – if he’s not there anymore…maybe then we’ll have a project,” Therrien said.

Massicotte’s comany, who has already invested $38-million in Quebec gambling ventures, has attracted some controversy for his influence over the Hippodrome. François Legault, the finance critic of the Parti Québécois, accused Massicotte of using his ties to the Liberal Premier of Quebec Jean Charest to further his business interests.

According to Gerard Landry of RSM Richter, an accounting firm that is supervising the restructuring of Attractions Hippiques, the company is likely to propose the construction of a Ludoplex – a larger, Vegas-style structure, combining horse racing, gambling, Video Lottery Terminals (VLTs), live shows and concerts, and family entertainment. While it was originally proposed to build a Ludoplex north of Montreal, the difficulty in finding a location returned attention to the current site.

While its attributes may indicate promise as a potential tourist attraction, Henry Aubin, a columnist at The Montreal Gazette, says it will likely become a financial sinkhole.

“Of the two Ludoplexes built [in Quebec City and Trois Rivières], both are making far less than anticipated,” said Aubin. “They are making financial loses for two reasons. One, there is no smoking – and gamblers love to smoke. Two, people just are not interested in horse racing anymore.”

Gambling has been on the decline in Quebec, and some are questioning whether it deserves further investment. Even Massicotte admitted the company’s financial struggles due to this trend in an open letter to the media: while expected to receive $28-million in 2007 from government gambling revenues, the company instead got only $8.1-million, and will likely only receive $8.8-million this year. The company has also struggled to earn a profit from the VLTs at the Hippodrome, and it is unclear whether a larger investment in the same area will reverse a failing trend.

The CDN–NDG borough has been commended for their green-friendly redevelopment by online magazine Spacing Montreal, but could be hard-pressed to deliver similar social change initiatives on this site if the Hippodrome redevelopment proceeds. Speculation is that the track may open its gates for live races as soon as next weekend.


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