by Alex Campbell
Members of the Ontario government Public Accounts Committee passed a binding motion April 10 that calls for the Auditor General's office to investigate the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp.'s 2012 decision to cancel the slots-at-racetracks program.
The motion, put forth by the Progressive Conservative party in late March, not only asks the Auditor General's office to investigate the cancellation of the program, but also to look into all aspects of the OLG's modernization strategy, which would see expanded casinos introduced in 29 different gaming zones throughout the province. The investigation, which could begin within days, is expected to take six to nine months.
A similar non-binding motion put forth by the New Democrats that was passed by a 53-33 vote in March indicated the will of the House of Commons to delay the implementation of the OLG's modernization strategy and to freeze the cancellation of the slots-at-racetracks program until the government could engage the horse racing industry in a consultation process.
The OLG, which reached standard lease agreements with 14 racetracks to continue slots operations at those facilities after the cancellation of the racetrack slots program March 31 of this year, said it fully intends to cooperate with the Auditor General's office throughout the investigation.
"OLG will support the Auditor General's review in any way we can and looks forward to working with his office," OLG chief executive officer Rod Phillips said.
While the investigation takes place, the Ontario Horse Racing Industry Association is urging Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne to put the OLG's modernization process on hold until a report from the Auditor General's office is issued.
"We have had serious concerns with the OLG's modernization process from the start," OHRIA president Sue Leslie said. "The Public Accounts Committee's motion raises significant questions about the government and OLG's gaming modernization strategy and called on the Auditor General to investigate. This is a very serious development, and one that the premier must respect."
With the government's termination of the slots program, Ontario's horse racing industry is now in unfamiliar territory without the guaranteed revenue provided by the agreement. Introduced in 1999, the slots-at-racetracks program provided the horse racing industry with approximately $345 million in 2012 in return for hosting slots parlors within racetrack facilities.
Despite the significant cut in funding, at least 11 tracks will continue live racing in 2013, including Thoroughbred racing at Woodbine and Fort Erie, both of which will offer shorter meets this season.
"The OLG's modernization process has ravaged our industry," Leslie said. "Thousands of people have lost their jobs as a result of this rush to dramatically change gaming in Ontario. We formally ask Premier Wynne to respect that a majority of the legislature has twice in less than a month voted to demonstrate their opposition to the current approach the OLG and government are taking. We urge the premier to pause OLG modernization until the Auditor General's report is public."