07/09/2013 4:34PM

Hearing at Woodbine discusses future of racing in Ontario


ETOBICOKE, Ontario – A crowd of approximately 200 people, all with a stake in the future of the horse racing industry in Ontario, gathered Tuesday afternoon on the third floor at Woodbine to listen to and discuss aspects of the Horse Racing Industry Panel’s latest draft report.

John Snobelen, one of three former cabinet ministers along with John Wilkinson and Elmer Buchanan who were commissioned by Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne to lay out a plan for a sustainable horse racing industry in the province following the elimination of the slots-at-racetracks program on March 31, provided highlights of the panel’s report, which was released June 28.

The panel suggested that future public funding for the industry come in amounts generated by racetracks in the form of wagering commissions on live Ontario racing that would go toward purses.

“If wagering went down, then the public investment would go down,” Snobelen said. “If wagering went up, it would go up.”

By Snobelen’s calculations, the industry would receive approximately $110 million this year in the form of commissions.

“We think there’s more upside than downside to this,” Snobelen said. “I think we’re understating the amount.”

“We need horse racing to be part of a system that provides more gaming revenue. We need to introduce new racing-related products. There’s a real opportunity to expand ontrack gaming.”

The transition panel also has proposed that the Ontario Racing Commission’s role should be reduced to one of a regulatory nature and that a new organization, called Ontario Live Racing, would oversee the distribution of funds. Each breed would have its own group under the names Thoroughbred Live, Standardbred Live, and Quarter Horse Live.

“We’d like to put a program together that does not require legislation, federally or provincially,” Snobelen said.

The panel’s most controversial proposal concerned the Horse Improvement Fund, which distributes money for purses and owner and breeder awards to horses competing in restricted races.

The panel suggested that the program should be opened up to include horses from all jurisdictions. “We need to encourage the breeding of superior horses, valuable around the world,” Snobelen said.

Rod Phillips, chief executive officer of the Ontario Lottery Corp., also spoke at the gathering.

“We’re committed to being an active participant in this,” Phillips said. “We have to understand horse racing customers and how that fits into our program.”

Those in attendance were asked to break off into groups to discuss suggestions that the panel will evaluate prior to finalizing its report. The groups then assigned a member to report their findings in key areas, which included wagering, revenue, breeding, and funds distribution.

A recommendation by the panel that would close Woodbine as a Standardbred racing facility, leaving Mohawk Raceway as the Woodbine Entertainment Group’s sole track for the breed, was roundly denounced by one of the groups whose discussions included that issue.