Ontario Pledges $50M in Transitional Funding

Racetracks in the province have lost or will lose revenue from slot machines.

by Alex Campbell

The Ontario government announced June 7 it will provide up to $50 million in transitional funding to the province’s horse racing industry over the next three years.

“Our government understands that ending the slots-at-racetracks program and responding to market demands poses a challenge for everyone involved in the horse racing industry,” Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan said in a statement. “That’s why we are committed to helping the industry move toward greater self-sufficiency without government support.”

The government has put together a panel of three former cabinet ministers who will lead the consultation with the industry. The panel includes Elmer Buchanan, who served as Ontario’s Minister of Agriculture from 1990-95; John Snobelen, an internationally renowned horseman who served as Minister of Education and Minister of Natural Resources from 1995-2003; and John Wilkinson, who served as the Minister of Research and Innovation, Minister of Revenue, and Minister of the Environment from 2007-11.

The panel will work with the industry to determine how the government can support the transition and how the $50 million in transitional funding will be allocated.

“We are happy to have the opportunity to work alongside the industry and provide them with our support as they develop a vision for their future,” the members of the panel said in a joint statement. “We recognize that the horse racing industry is at a crossroad and has challenging decisions to make as it considers its future opportunities.

“We look forward to hearing from stakeholders on their needs and priorities, so that decisions can be made on how best to assist the industry during this time of transition toward self-sustainability.”

The panel is encouraging industry stakeholders to provide comments during a consultation period that will run over the summer. Comments can be submitted through industry associations or can be submitted via e-mail to horseracingtransition@ontario.ca.

After the consultation period ends, the panel will submit recommendations in a final report to the government.

The Ontario Horse Racing Industry Association welcomed the news that the government will be working with the industry to ensure the long-term viability of the horse racing and breeding industry in the province.

“We are encouraged that the government has put (the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs) on point to hold these discussions that are long overdue,” OHRIA president Sue Leslie said. “We take this as an indication that the government is recognizing the value that our industry brings to Ontario’s agricultural economy and to the public in general.

“However, it is not transitional funding that is needed but a long-term funding plan that will insure a vibrant industry in the future. This is a long-awaited step but there are many more steps ahead.”

OHRIA recently created a task force that will lead discussions with the government. The task force, whose members are Leslie, Jamie Martin of Woodbine Entertainment Group, and Hugh Mitchell of the Western Fair District, has retained Stanley Sadinsky to assist in developing a proposal on behalf of the industry that will lead to sustainability.

Sadinsky, a lawyer who specializes in gambling law and policy, is a former chair of the Ontario Racing Commission and the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp.  The task force will report to the OHRIA board by the end of June for consideration, and ultimate approval, of its plan.

“Time is of the essence in developing a picture of what industry revenues and plans will look like for 2013 and beyond,” Leslie said. “The breeding sector, in particular, is feeling the immediate impact of the uncertainties regarding industry programs that are designed to promote the breeding and sale of Ontario racehorses. Buyer confidence is now at an all-time low, and it is essential to provide clarity before the September sales, clarity that will encourage buyers to continue to invest in Ontario-bred horses.”