The Ontario government budget released March 27 calls for an end to the province’s slots-at-racetrack program, but political opponents claim the fight isn’t over.
The plan pushed by Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty already has taken shape with the announced removal of slots from three racetracks, including Fort Erie Racetrack & Slots. But the Progressive Conservative Party opposes the budget, and the New Democrat Party said it needs time to assess the spending plan before it makes a decision.
Meanwhile, the Ontario Horse Racing Industry Association said it will continue to fight the proposal and will unveil its own plan in the coming days.
“OHRIA is still hopeful that the government will sit down with the industry to see the current system honored until at least 2015, giving time to design a long-term plan that works with the government and ensures survival for the province’s once-vibrant and now shattered horse industry,” OHRIA president Sue Leslie said in a statement.
In a related matter, Bullet News Niagara reported Kim Craitor, Niagara Falls Member of Provincial Parliament, sent a letter to McGuinty asking him to reconsider the plan or consider allowing Fort Erie to privatize its slots operation. The news service said Craitor plans to show the facility can operate successfully by the consortium that has kept it alive for the past two years.
The slot machines are to be removed at the end of April. Fort Erie, however, will race its regular schedule this year.
The Ontario horse racing industry—Thoroughbred, Standardbred, and Quarter Horse—receives about $345 million a year from its share of slots revenue. Industry officials have said loss of the revenue would have a devastating impact.
It’s still unclear which racetracks will be permitted to keep slots, either under the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. or via privatization.
The OHRIA pointed out differences in the 2011 and 2012 budget proposals. Last year the government noted the 20% of gross slots revenue that goes to racing has “provided over $3.4 billion to the horse racing industry in Ontario, a key component of the province’s agriculture sector.”
This year, the government said the OLG “modernization process” led to a review that concluded “the industry needs to move toward greater self-sufficiency without government support. This will allow the industry to respond competitively to market demands for its racing product.”