Hiawatha, Dresden In The News Again

Both the Hiawatha Horse Park and Dresden Raceway have been in the mainstream news this week. Hiawatha has been mentioned in regard to when slots will be reintroduced at the track, while Ontario Minister of Infrastructure Monte McNaughton has commented on funding for Dresden.

Blackburn News had run an item earlier this week stating that the return of slot-machine gaming to Hiawatha could take another nine to 12 months.

The item had quoted Mayor Mike Bradley as saying, “We have to have a public consultation process to decide whether we will support the slots coming back to Hiawatha.”

Mayor Bradley had gone on to say, “The group that’s going to be operating it, Gateway, has to negotiate a deal with Hiawatha. There’s numerous government approvals. So, I think being realistic, I really don’t see from talking to OLG the slots being in place probably for another nine months to a year.”

A differing narrative emerged in the press just a day later, as Mayor Bradley, after speaking with members of Ontario Lottery and Gaming, said that he could bring municipal approval to Sarnia council this coming January and the public input process could be arranged “quite quickly.”

“I could bring that municipal approval to council in January,” Mayor Bradley was quoted as saying. “We did have public input when Hiawatha was rezoned; this time around they want either an online or in-person public input. I think we should do both. That can be arranged quite quickly.”

When asked about the situation, Hiawatha Horse Park Owner Jim Henderson cited Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s enthusiasm for slots getting reintroduced the Standardbred facility.

“Ford was really positive when he was down,” said Henderson. “They want to get it going, both Bailey and Ford said they want to get this running.”

Henderson went on to say, “The property’s ready. We’re ready. The property’s rooms are ready. There’s not much on our end to get ready now. The bathrooms are built, the bars are built.”

When asked for comment, OLG Senior Manager of Media Relations Tony Bitonti said, “As this is an agreement-in-principle, it needs to (be) finalized [with] the parties involved. We will keep stakeholders updated as we move forward.”

The Ontario Government announced last month that it had reached an agreement-in-principle that will see Dresden Raceway receive additional financial support for horse racing operations. Dresden officials elected to receive additional financial support for horse racing operations at the track, but declined to accept slots at the facility.

McNaughton, who is the MPP for Lambton-Kent-Middlesex, has commented on the deal, stating, “On a personal note it has been a very long battle for me.”

McNaughton also stated that the funding “will provide for sustainability and many years to come of vibrant horse racing industry in Ontario.”

(With files from Blackburn News and the Wallaceburg Courier Press)