New deal for Vancouver's Hastings Racecourse?

Talks to keep Hastings Racecourse open for gambling beyond 2012 continue between Great Canadian Gaming and landlord City of Vancouver.

"Negotiations are ongoing with the city, which is positive," Great Canadian vice-president Howard Blank told the Courier. "There had to be a definitive answer by the 31st of October but the city has agreed to continue working with us."

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Great Canadian's five-year term ends Nov. 9, 2012. In March, the Richmond-based company wrote-off $46.8 million in "long-lived assets" at the track and balked at the 15-year renewal clause if the city required it to pay for a parkade and renovate backstretch buildings.

"If that was a condition on the fulfilling the lease, we cannot move forward," Blank said at the time.

Blank wouldn't comment on whether the cost of lease improvements remains an issue.

"Talks are going well and obviously the company is spending considerable time and effort on that property," Blank said Thursday. "If we weren't interested, we wouldn't be talking."

Great Canadian announced its financial results Thursday for the quarter ended Sept. 30, but did not address its declining racetrack revenues in a conference call with stock analysts. Racetrack revenues fell by $100,000 to $5.2 million in the third quarter. Racetrack revenues, chiefly from Hastings, have dropped 16 percent during the first nine months of 2011. Horse racing revenue is shrinking across North America.

Overall, Great Canadian reported a 5 per cent revenue boost to $101 million. Flagship River Rock Casino Resort in Richmond took in $4.5 million more from tables and slot machines, but Coquitlam's Boulevard Casino saw revenue dip another $800,000 because of nearby Port Mann Bridge and highway construction.

River Rock opened a $24 million, 193-room hotel tower Oct. 17. Great Canadian announced Thursday it would build a 181-room hotel and conference facility for $60 million by December 2013 at Boulevard.

The report was the first since the Sept. 5 death of founder Ross McLeod. Former Woodbine Entertainment Group executive Patrick Keenan was among three new appointees to the board of directors. Liberal Sen. Larry Campbell remains a director. Campbell was Vancouver's mayor in 2004 when he cast the deciding vote to allow slots at the track. He joined the Great Canadian board in 2008.

CEO Rod Baker said the company is "monitoring global events" for fear its high-end VIP baccarat business will decrease. The slowing Chinese economy is blamed for decreases in high-stakes play in Macau and Las Vegas.

"We need to be sensitized to what's going on out there in the world," Baker said. "That's not be alarmist, but it's our job to be ahead of any changes in the business."

The company withdrew its bid to operate Casino Rama in Ontario and announced a refinancing with a $350 million revolving credit through July 2016.

Asked whether Great Canadian has talked with Paragon Gaming about becoming involved in the on-hold plan to build a new casino/hotel complex next to B.C. Place Stadium, Blank said "I can't comment on rumour, speculation."

"Only time will tell what happens with the city and that company and what their plans are," he said. "We couldn't speak to what they want to do, it's their issue with the city."

In April, Vancouver city council rejected casino expansion but said Paragon could move Edgewater's existing licence to a $450 million facility proposed for B.C. Place's west side.

2010goldrush@gmail.com

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