News | Horse owners and Côte-des-Neiges oppose casino project

Plans to bailout bankrupt Hippodrome in conflict with community centre proposals for 2,500 social housing units

Members of the Côtes-des-Neiges (CDN) community are not impressed with Quebec’s plan to replace the bankrupt horse track in their borough with 300 video lottery terminals (VLTs). Instead, they want to use the space to develop 2,500 social housing units.

The Quebec government is currently negotiatiating with Attractions Hippiques, the horse racing company owned by Liberal senator Paul Massicote, an estimated $1-billion dollar bailout that will permanently close Hippodrome de Montréal and replace it with a casino.

Under the plan, Attractions Hippiques would be released from its original contractual obligations; it would not be required to build a replacement track in the area, nor would they be obligated to pay the $1.5-million it currently owes in municipal taxes.

Provincial horse breeders are widely opposed to the proposal because of the replacement track provision. The plan will cut their annual revenues from horse racing betting by about $18-million.

Warren Allmand, City Councillor for the Loyola district of the CDN-Notre Dame de Grace borough, is certain that a casino in the area will exacerbate poverty in CDN, where 40 per cent of the population already lives at the poverty line. He pointed out that VLTs are especially addictive and have been linked to suicide and financial instability.

“We’re totally opposed to [the casino],” Allmand said. “We don’t want to give comfort to those who are steaming ahead with the plan. We’re [only] making plans to stop it.”

Allmand said, though, that the councillors in the CDN-NDG doubt the borough council will approve the gaming complex, nixing the government’s plan.

Denyse Lacelle, coordinator for the Côte-des -Neiges Community Council, an amalgamation of 50 community organizations, referred to the plan as “total nonsense.” She and other members of the council feel that “to build a private casino [in the area] is the worst plan possible.”

Ian Wetherly, the president and CEO of Attractions Hippiques, maintained that the gaming complex’s clients do not come from the CDN area and will thus not affect the borough. He felt that the concerns of CDN community members are unfounded, and argued that if the gambling venue is built, there will still be room for the housing development.

Despite the failure of Attractions Hippique’s previous venues in Trois Rivieres and Quebec City, Wetherly is confident that the proposed gaming complex – which he insisted is not a “casino” – will be a success.

“[Our racing complexes in Quebec] have just been a total flop,” Wetherly said. “[The gaming complex] will be the same as the existing [venues], but it’s a good site. Clients will come from all over the island.”

Attractions Hippiques has suffered losses for several years, has been in bankruptcy protection since June, and has not held any live horse races since December. Last week, the Montreal Superior Court granted them an extension of creditor protection, set to expire on March 9.

According to Wetherly, the bailout is the only chance for the survival of horseracing in Quebec, as the casino plan will also include an outdoor racetrack, and the preservation of over 3,000 jobs in the industry. “Our opinion is that if we don’t come up with a deal, our company won’t be in existence, nor will the horse racing industry,” Wetherly said.