Horse Racing Industry in Ontario Under Fire

Seeking to reduce its $16 billion deficit, the Ontario government is considering one of economist Don Drummond’s recommendations to cut the “Slots at Racetracks” program, which could result in the downfall of horse racing in Ontario.

Slot machines were instituted at Ontario racetracks--both Standardbred and Thoroughbred--in the late 1990s. At that time the racetrack industry and government negotiated an agreement that required a portion (20%) of slot revenues be directed to the racing industry.

“The stated goals of the Slots at Racetracks program was to enhance live racing and subsequently benefit the agricultural sector in Ontario,” said Ontario Harness Horse Association General Manager Brian Tropea. “This arrangement has been beneficial for everyone and has allowed the racing industry to prosper.”

For example, the Ontario government receives $261 million a year directly from the horse racing industry and its participants, while the Ontario horse racing industry currently employs 60,000 Ontarians and sees a total of $1.5 billion in wages and salaries sustained annually from total expenditures from the Ontario horse racing and breeding industries. In addition the slots at racetracks program generates approximately $1 billion dollars in revenue per year for the provincial government.

“Because of the Slots at Racetracks program, the racing industry has been able to maintain approximately 60,000 direct and/or indirect jobs and the $2.6 billion dollars/year in related economic activity in the province,” added Tropea. “If the Slots at Racetracks program is cut then the racing industry will suffer irreparable harm. People are already making decisions not to invest in the Ontario horse racing breeding industry because of the recent comments from Finance Minister Dwight Duncan.”

According to the Drummond Report, “Slot machines are directed to racetracks, where subsidies are provided to the horse racing and breeding industry and municipalities, rather than locations that would be more convenient and profitable; OLG would make much more money if slots were permitted elsewhere, as they should be.”

Tropea and other horse racing participants argue that Drummond’s report is incorrect. According to a release from the Ontario Harness Horse Association, "(Ontario) taxpayers have never subsidized the horse racing industry.

“Horse racing is funded through wagering that takes place at the racetrack facilities across Ontario,” stated Tropea. “Unless you have wagered on a horse race or placed money into a slot machine located at a racetrack, none of your tax dollars have ever supported Ontario’s horse racing industry.”

Between 500 and 600 horse racing industry participants gathered on the front lawn of Queen's Park in Toronto on Feb. 22, to raise awareness of the importance of the equine industry and the economic benefits it contributes to the Province of Ontario. The rally, which was attended by representatives from all three breeds of racehorses--Standardbred, Thoroughbred, and Quarter Horse--received heavy media attention. At the rally members of Provincial Parliament attended in support of the horse people’s concerns, with many of them addressing the gathering and promising their support.

Tropea added, “The racing industry is not looking for any government handouts. We simply want to maintain the current arrangement that has been so beneficial to all parties. We are hopeful that, upon review of the current arrangement, the government will see the obvious benefits of continuing the Slots at Racetracks program in its current form.”

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