Ontario Plans Partnership; No Details Yet

Lease agreements are replacing the current slots-at-racetracks program.

Woodbine Entertainment Group said March 8 it is "pleased" Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne plans a stronger partnership between the province and horse racing industry. But it remains to be seen how much revenue is at stake.

Wynne spoke at Grant River Raceway, a harness track, early in the day to announce that four harness facilities had accepted lease deals with the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. The new agreement, which greatly reduces revenue to horse racing, stemmed from the provincial government's winter 2012 announcement that the slots-at-racetrack program would be terminated as of March 31 this year.

WEG, which already has a deal with the OLG, released its statement after Wynne's press conference. WEG operates Woodbine and Mohawk Raceway.

"The uncertainty of the last 12 months has been chaotic for our industry and has adversely impacted small businesses and communities across the entire province," WEG president and chief executive officer Nick Eaves said in a release. "The new premier clearly understands the critical importance of a vibrant horse racing and breeding industry to the province's economy.

"Her commitment to ensuring its sustainable future by reintegrating it with the province's gaming strategy is meaningful and a welcome policy change at WEG. Woodbine and Mohawk racetracks have in reality been vital elements of the province's gaming strategy for the past 14 years. We look forward to continuing that partnership to maximize revenue streams for both our industry and for the province."

Financial details of the arrangements by which the OLG will lease racetrack space to operate existing slot machines haven't been released. But given planned cutbacks in racing days and purses so far this year, the return clearly won't be close to the 20% racing received from slots under the soon-to-expire agreement.

The 20% of slots revenue is split 50-50 between racetracks and horsemen. There has been talk of transitional funding in the neighborhood of $50 million, about one-seventh the amount the industry has been receiving on a yearly basis.

The lease agreements apparently won't be publicly discussed until deals with other tracks in Ontario are negotiated and announced.