03/13/2012 1:37PM

Slots plan puts Ontario racing in peril; industry seeks support

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario – The Ontario Horse Racing Industry Association is battling on after Ontario’s government instructed the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation to wind up the province’s racetrack slots program by March 31, 2013.

The measure was one of several issued by the province’s ruling Liberal party after it received an Ontario Lottery and Gaming report on Monday proposing “modernization” of the province’s gambling industry. The Ontario government is facing a $16 billion deficit. It will release its annual budget within the next couple of weeks.

The government also has given the green light for the creation of a new casino in the Greater Toronto Area. Woodbine has been mentioned in news reports as a leading contender along with Ontario Place, on Toronto’s waterfront, and the adjacent Canadian National Exhibition grounds.

“WEG has long held the position that Woodbine is the logical location for a casino in the Greater Toronto Area,” said Nick Eaves, president and CEO of the Woodbine Entertainment Group, in a prepared statement. “Clearly, there is significant gaming customer interest at Woodbine Racetrack, with over 6 million visitors annually.

“Given the success of our long-term partnership, WEG is committed to immediately commencing work with the government and the OLG to develop a mutually beneficial long-term plan. A plan that will best serve the customer, the government’s revenue objectives, and our company’s mandate to maximize financial performance in order to achieve the highest quality of horse racing.”

Sue Leslie, president of the Ontario Horse Racing Industry Association, sees the discontinuation of the racetrack slots program as a potentially fatal blow to the province’s overall racing industry.

“I believe we’ve got to get the public onside,” Leslie said. “I don’t think that the politicians, or the public, understand the ramifications of what they [the government] are recommending.

“The whole industry starts with the horse. Every time you contract the industry, you lose horses. You lose horses, you lose jobs. You lose horses, you lose field size. It’s just a rollout.”

There are 17 racetracks in Ontario and the Ontario Horse Racing Industry Association has pointed out that the industry provides 60,000 jobs and $1.5 billion in wages to the province’s residents.

The racetrack slots program has been highly successful with the province overseeing the sites and pocketing the proceeds after the racetracks receive 10 percent, the horsemen 10 percent, and the municipality 5 percent for the first 450 machines and 2 percent for machines in excess of that number.

“I really don’t understand it,” Leslie said. “We’ve done nothing but provide the government with a ton of money, and they haven’t even sat down with us to give us the opportunity to look at ways we could have done this, as partners should, and move forward together to find new forms of revenue for them without decimating the horse racing industry.”

The Ontario Horse Racing Industry Association has launched a website, value4money.ca, to encourage Ontario residents to write to their provincial representatives in support of the racetrack slots program.

Robin Dawson More than 1 year ago
WEG should be ashamed of themselves. David Willmot and his cronies hase destroyed racing in Ontario. E.P. Taylor would be appalled. They deserve no sympathy and NO subsidy.
Mohamed More than 1 year ago
Now that the Ontario Government is putting the squeeze to the horse racing industry, the WEG is begging for public support, when they threated their customers with utter disdain over the years. They have removed all the tellers from the Champions and leave the customers in deep quandry, as the operators of the champions are not customer orientated.
Charles Decker More than 1 year ago
Translation Ms. Leslie--We (the racing industry) have not had a clue for decades on how to market our product, how to respond to competition, to understand our customer, to cultivate a new generation of horseplayes, etc..etc..so we are telling you, Ontario government, that we are entitled for you to fund our industry and our executives. Slots are ok and they keep people employed--but why should the racing industry get 20% of the revenue? Should you not have to survive on your own without a government decree to keep your purses at absurd levels?
William Norton More than 1 year ago
Spot on, Charles. The industry that has spent years sucking the slot welfare nipple is now (hilariously) angry that anyone would dare, DARE to take the free money away from them. The sport is already dead; by 10 years from now all that will be left is a couple of tracks that run short meets with marquee, TV friendly races.
Al Courtney More than 1 year ago
Racing in Ontario did nothing for 15 years.Amazing how they come together when their Golden Goose is attacked!Absolutely no sympathy from the taxpayers of Ontario. Hopefully Ontario Place or CNE gets the full fledged casino so that racing at Woodbine doesn't get the 20% subsidy from the gaming revenue. Take horse racing behind the barn and shoot it.Bring on ONE TEAM SPORTS BETTING.
Robin Dawson More than 1 year ago
So true..so true...15 years ago Frank Drea and Mike Harris condemned the OJC as unworthy of subsidies. Now, 12-13 years after being propped up by the weak and vulnerable these miserable whiners are looking for another bale out. The fact is that all they've done is to take this money and pay off their own private debt, improve their plant and boost purses for a few fat cats, while the sport itself and its presence for fans has gone down the drain. They deserve absolutely nothing. And all those involved..Willmot, who paid himself 800K a year, ' to do racing a favour ' and Sue Leslie, a dreamer, should be ashamed of themselves. E.P. Taylor would roll over in his grave if he was to witness this debacle.