08/24/2012 4:03PM

Ontario: Horse racing transition panel agrees with plan to end racetrack slots program


ETOBICOKE, Ontario – Ontario’s minister of agriculture, food and rural affairs, Ted McMeekin, announced Friday that an interim report from the horse racing transition panel agrees with the government’s decision to end the racetrack slots programs.

The Ontario Horse Racing Industry Association had welcomed the creation of the panel – comprising former Ontario cabinet ministers Elmer Buchanan, John Snobelen, and John Wilkinson – whose aim was to help the industry make the transition away from the slots-at-racetracks model.

The Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation announced last March that the racetrack slots program, under which horsemen and racetracks had split 20 percent in net proceeds from the machines, would be discontinued as of March 31, 2013. That action was expedited at Ontario’s three border tracks – Fort Erie, Windsor Raceway and Hiawatha Horse Park – when the slots were removed on April 30.

Fort Erie subsequently announced that it would close at the end of the year and Windsor’s request to cancel its racing license as of Sept. 1 was approved by the Ontario Racing Commission on Tuesday.

In June, the Ontario government announced that it would provide $50 million over a three-year period, to be split among the province’s racetracks. There are 17 tracks in Ontario, including Windsor and Fort Erie.

The panel, in its 48-page report to McMeekin, notes that the horse racing industry derives 63.6 percent of its purse revenue from the racetrack slots program and that the $50 million “is insufficient to build a bridge to sustainability.

“In our view it is possible for Ontario to have a viable, world-class, right-sized horse racing industry, but only if additional revenue is provided either by the government directly or by allowing the industry to offer new gaming products,” the panelists wrote.

McMeekin, in his release, stated that he expects to receive the final report no later than the end of September.

“The government has asked the panel to consult further with the industry to determine to work together in such a way that recognizes the public interest and the current fiscal climate,” said McMeekin, in his press release.

Sue Leslie, president and chair of the Ontario Horse Racing Industry Association, responded to the report late Friday afternoon.
“Basically, the Ontario Horse Racing Industry Association is pleased with the report,” said Leslie. “It certainly incorporates  many of the suggestions of OHRIA, and it also substantiates to a large degree the economic facts that we have provided to the government.
“We think the panel did a good job, and we look forward to working with them over the next six weeks to try and finalize a new path in, as they say, a partnership with the government.”
An Ontario Horse Racing Industry Association press release stressed the positive statements included in the report, including the $2 billion to $2.5 billion which the horse racing and breeding industries annually contribute to Ontario’s economy and their importance as a social, cultural and community asset.
Nick Eaves, president and chief executive officer of the Woodbine Entertainment Group, had no comment to offer in the immediate wake of the report’s release.