06/21/2012 12:23PM

Woodbine: CEO says track may close if slots revenue is taken away

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Michael Burns
Woodbine Entertainment Group President and CEO Nick Eaves speaks to the media at the Queen's Plate post-position draw.

ETOBICOKE, Ontario – Nick Eaves, president and chief executive officer of the Woodbine Entertainment Group, dropped a bombshell at the Queen’s Plate post-position draw breakfast here Thursday morning.

Eaves, speaking in the walking ring before the largest media gathering of the season, said that Woodbine Racetrack could be forced to cease operations if Ontario’s Liberal Government proceeds with its plan to shut down the racetrack slots program here next March 31.

“We’ve invested almost $400 million and completely changed the operation of our business,” said Eaves, noting that admission and parking charges were eliminated to accommodate the slots operation.

“It’s simply not possible for us to have the slots product taken away, and be expected as an industry to sustain ourselves and survive on pari-mutuel wagering income. The government’s going-forward plan right now does not include revenue sharing; it proposes only a nominal sum to rent the area.”

The racetrack slots program, a partnership between the provincially-run Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation and the racetracks began here in 2000 and has been a boon to both horseracing and the government. The revenue-sharing program has provided 10 percent of net proceeds to the racetrack operators, 10 percent to the horsemen for purses, roughly 5 percent to the host municipalities, and the balance to the provincial government.

Eaves pointed out that the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation’s business plan, which is backed by the provincial government, allows for the creation of a number of new casinos in the province. Those, along with the advent of online gaming and sports betting in the near future, will provide additional competition to horseracing.

“We’ll be competing against government money,” said Eaves. “We’ll be in an impossible position.”

The Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation already has shut down the slots program at Ontario’s three border racetracks as the machines were removed from Fort Erie Racetrack, Windsor Raceway, and Hiawatha Horse Park at the end of April. The Fort Erie Live Racing Corsortium announced last month that the track would close permanently on Dec. 31, 2012.

Eaves vowed that Woodbine will continue to press the provincial government to reexamine its decisions.

Bernard Williams More than 1 year ago
If the agreement is cancelled by the government then we will be back in the mid-nineties only this time there will be another gambling format for the public, the slots. Horse racing only agreed to provide accomodation for the slots because of the understanding that they would rob from the horse betting public and thus a percentage of the slot money would go to the track and horsement. That agreement worked. Now, unlike the mid-nineties when horse racing was getting by,but a tough game, there will be the slots taking the money and there will none of the profit for the track and the horsement. Woodbine will not survive or be anything other than a "B" track with less racing days. The good horses will go elsewhere. E.P. Taylor will be rolling in his grave. The government gives no indication of adjusting so Eaves is correct, planning must be underway for either no racing as of April 1, 2013 or some kind of a lesser package of racing, maybe 100 days from May to October with reduced purses. A sad outlook but what it is probably what the future holds for Woodbine and its racing patrons. Bernard Williams
DAVID A More than 1 year ago
Robin Dawson knows best. There was an artical in the DRF about a guy wanting to buy the Meadowlands. I believe he owned Vernon Downs. He said at the annual racetrack management meeting the tracks with slots sent no representation because the didn't care and the tracks without slots sent no representation because the couldn't afford to. WEG has filled there pockets and are more arrogant than ever. This company is now worried about people loosing jobs?? Woodbine got tons of money and have not been accountable for it. They were to promote horse racing and create jobs .They gave their valet parking guys the pink slip (most with 20+ years of service) only to let a private valet service re hire some at a lower rate of pay without benefits and pensions. They have pretty much done away with their mutual staff as the have gone tellerless in Champions only to pay the operator extra to sell and cash vouchers because they can't sell actual tickets. Furthermore they made no effort to care about the horse customers or even the horsemen. They don't care if they even have horse racing as long as the slot revenue keeps pouring in. Have they lowered takeouts??? lowered food prices??? They turned their backs on most Canadian trainers and jockeys and welcomed in many Americans. These people pay taxes in the U.S. so alot of our purse money is taken out of the country. Horse trainers and owners are just as broke now as they were before the slots. The day rate for the owners has gone through the roof and the exspenses for the trainers and the owners has escalated. The people getting rich off the slots are the racetrack owners and the professional people that don't have investments in the game. ( Vets, jockeys, blacksmiths,feed companies,agents...) Everyone jacked up their prices so it has only benefited a handful. It seems to me that the people putting money into the business ( the owners and the punters) have got little in return.
Ange More than 1 year ago
And when 60,000 more people end up on welfare in Ontario, how is that going to help their budget? Bet they'll be wishing the billion dollar slots at racetrack program was still happening! Talk about shooting themselves in the foot. Stupid Ontario government.
IAN More than 1 year ago
It would be a lot cheaper in the long run to put all those workers on welfare than to subsidize racing. Plus MOST of those people would intergrate into other ares of employment pretty fast. The trainers will pack up their horses if possible and head south and those who can't will sell their horses and move on to new endevours. Fact of life I'm afraid and nobody ever said the government has to GUARENTEE you a job. I would prefer my taxes went down if this mmoney is applied to lowering the tax burden.
Robin Dawson More than 1 year ago
In 1995, writing about Woodbine's plea for government support (this is not a new thing) Jim Proudfoot (Toronto Star) quoted then CEO of the OJC Pat Keenan, who said..' we are in danger of losing 28,000 jobs ';...so where have the other 32K come from? Its just anothjer Wolf, Wolf story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
There is little doubt that, prior to getting slots revenue racing had a perilous future. So, along came the slots and purses went through the roof. Everybody got "well". Everybody that is except the bettors who still suffer the same egregious take-out rates despite racings' windfall. It seems that racing does indeed need some kind of subsidy to continue to exist but certainly nowhere near the pile of dough that was dropped in their lap. I envision each Monday morning, workers delivering a virtual trainload of coins into the Woodbine offices whereupon WEG officials scratch their heads trying to decide how to distribute this weeks' bonanza. Too bad they ignored the punters who as a group will never raise a protest - they're just too hopelessly addicted. The present slots "deal" was not successful for everyone but horsemen and WEG sure have had a great run. But either greed or tradition caused the horseplayers to be left out. Of course, now that NYRA has slots cash pouring in, no doubt they'll be lowering the takeout at New York tracks. Yeah, right!! Bobo
Chris Szabo More than 1 year ago
Desperate governments do desperate things, and Ontario's government is no different, trying to take over the revenues which have revitalized racing. Unfortunately, by supporting other forms of gambling, and hog-tying racing, Woodbine will close down. When this happens, when Canada's largest and most prestigious facility is forced to close down, the rest of Canada's racing industry is sure to follow. The government needs to come to its senses - now.
Robin Dawson More than 1 year ago
This is complete nonsense: Just another Wolf, Wolf story...like recent sickly articles about breeders who will have to put their foals down because they cannot afford to stay in the business. For years, before lotteries and slots, horse racing held a monopoly on legal gambling in Ontario. But the Ontario Jockey Club ignored their fans. Now, after 15 years of subsidies, Woodbine are pleading poverty and sound as if they feel entitled to continued revenue from slots. The truth is, they have squandered a great opportunity to use this windfall to present and market racing properly, so that it can stand on its own 2(4) feet. Unfortunately all this 'public' money has gone towards paying off private debt, rebuilding private capital projects and boosting purses to ridiculously unsustainable levels for a chosen few. Meanwhile overall interest in the Sport and media exposure has declined seriously. Now the 20% revenue from slots is going to be put towards more deserving causes, such as health, welfare and education. And, during these austere times, this is a move that any astute government would make, if it wants to get re-elected. The bottom line is...racing will go on, Woodbine is a great racetrack and the Queen's Plate will continue, but with, perhaps, a smaller purse. Then, when they realize that they have to sell themselves better, those in charge may start presenting their sport better. * The sad fact is that although recent total betting has been up, this is entirely due to increased simulcasting (from which revenue is limited) and the percentage of wagering from locals and overall exposure in the greater Toronto area is now lower than it was before slots were introduced....indeed less money is now bet live on Woodbine than used be be bet on Fort Erie, on dark days (Monday, Tuesday) before simulcasting even existed. That is shocking!
ALAN More than 1 year ago
I think I recall WEG was down 15% in on track handle for both breeds earlier in the year.
Chris Szabo More than 1 year ago
Robin, you sound as though you just aren't living in this world. You sound as though you really need to get outside and talk to real people , real bettors who go to the track, bettors who used to go, and all those people who work at racetracks. Maybe then, you'd see reality - Woodbine hasn't squandered the revenues. The government is suddenly acting in order to desperately deal with problems of its own making, and that Woodbine is in real danger of closing down. Please, please familiarize yourself with the facts.
Robin Dawson More than 1 year ago
Chris, I know many people at Woodbine who are afraid to speak out because they think they'll lose their stalls and priveliges. Its just a sad fact in the incestuous world of North American racing...and I'm sure the same applies in NYRA and elsewhere. Indeed, my good friend Roger Attfield recently told me that the only reason he goes to the track these days is to train his horses, because it is now a horrible place and he has very few friends that he socializes with and genuinely wants to see. So, believe me, I know what's going on and I'm glad I have little to do with it. BTW..have you talked to Lloyd Duffy, Brian Swatuk, Garry Stahlbaum, Colin Bain, Jacques Dumas recently?...or do you know what happened to Bill Marko and Dave Penna?
IAN More than 1 year ago
the Tough Duff,,,,wish he wouldn't fart so much on our trips home from Florida plus he snores badly,,,,,lolllllllllllllll
IAN More than 1 year ago
Both Bill and Dave are dead now I believe but Bill was managing the Tim's at the rest area the last time me and Duff seen him. I used to be stabled right next to Jacques when Rene Kierans was galloping for him and his son Mark does a bit of shoeing for me now.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Robin, you are right on target!
Dale Wyatt More than 1 year ago
Terrible thing. I love horse racing and this clearly is the future. And any idiot on this thread thinks that all that money will be going for schools, roads etc. then you are dumber than the politicians. Big American casinos will come in and put Canadians out of work. I am an American and think this is terrible, but no politician can keep their hands off a major revenue stream to line their pockets
Chas Glazer More than 1 year ago
Most of you are missing the point...First, all governments from city to county to states to the federal government in the US have put themself in General Motors like position with giving employees generous retirement and health benefits which are paid via TAXES...If the tax return is lower than they have shortfalls...So what do these power control leeches due? Take revenue from any source which is what is happening in Canada... Second and more important...The deal between Woodbine, the Ontario Lottery and Ontario government was successful for everyone....$1.7 billion generated I believe in 2011 with the tracks getting $345 million...That means $1.35 Billion! to the Ontario Government...And that is not enough for them? So let's take it all and kill off another industry and put more people out of work...Oh, that's right those out of work people can go collect unemployement and live off the government at poverty levels.... If Woodbine goes by the waste side, then no track is safe in the US and horse racing will become like Europe: Sat-Sun from March to October....Oh, how fun...
AZ Wildcat More than 1 year ago
New York is next, and now that they control NYRA it will happen quickly.
Paul McAleavey More than 1 year ago
Most track officials lie and say they are losing money. Why? They went from 5 high ranking officials making less than 100k and a secretary making 30k. Now they have up to 25 officials making 250k and their secretaries making 100k. Plus there is bs about spending and where money goes. Everyone that remembers racing when it was a sport remembers there were 500 percent less horses produced per year, considerably less tracks and obviously far less racing racing days. It's what has ruined racing but there is more of everything right? How many reality shows are on tv? How much cursing on regular tv? How many places can we bet on every track in the world? No need to complain. You can't complain about watered down things and then cry when we are told they are not making money. Owners spend money, breeders over breed, tracks over race, horses break down and we bet and make or lose money. Look at all sides.