Panel Supports End of Ontario Slots Subsidy

The interim report recommends more than $50 million in transitional investment.

Saying it was "poor public policy," a three-person horse racing transition panel has concluded the Ontario government did the right thing by ending the slots-at-racetracks program that provided $345 million a year to the province's horse racing industry.

In addition, according to a statement from Ted McMeekin, Ontario’s Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, the transition panel’s interim report concluded that the provincial government should provide more than the $50 million it has committed over the next three years to help the horse industry as it transitions away from the slots subsidies.

The transition panel, consisting of former cabinet ministers Elmer Buchanan, John Snobelen, and John Wilkinson, began reviewing the impact of the removal of the subsidies on the Ontario racing and breeding industry.

"The panel has concluded the government made the right decision to end the slots-at-racetracks program, a program that cost taxpayers $345 million a year," McMeekin said in his Aug. 24 statement. "The panel said it would be a mistake to reinstate the program, going so far as to call it 'poor public policy.' The panel also advises that a viable horse racing industry requires ongoing funding to maintain attractive purses, sustain tracks, support breeding, and grow a robust betting system.

"Our government committed $50 million over the next three years to help transition the industry. The panel believes that a greater investment is required."

McMeekin also said the Ontario horse industry needs to display "financial transparency" as part of the transition process.

"Our government is focused on balancing its budget while protecting vital services that families rely on, like health care and education," the official said. "That's why any public transitional investment in the horse racing industry must include clear public-interest principles of fiscal accountability, transparency, a renewed focus on the consumer, and a business case showing that each public dollar invested is returned to the province through tax revenues. This means the industry needs to display financial transparency.

"The government has asked the panel to consult further with the industry to determine its willingness to work together in such a way that recognizes the public interest and the current fiscal climate."

McMeekin said he expects to receive the transition panel's final report by the end of September.

View the Horse Racing Industry Interim Report.