Ontario Horse Industry Rallies to Fight Cuts

Slots-at-racetracks revenue is being examined in wake of budget deficit.

by Alex Campbell

The Ontario horse racing industry is set to hold a rally Feb. 22 to fight off potential cuts in slot machine revenue it receives from the provincial government.

The rally, which has been proposed by the Ontario Harness Horse Association and could attract other groups, is set to take place at Queen’s Park in Toronto, Ontario, home of the provincial legislature.

“We are asking all Ontarians to join us in saving a way of life as well as the livelihoods of thousands of men and women who rely on horse racing for survival,” OHHA general manager Brian Tropea said in a statement.

The Ontario horse racing industry has been highlighted as an area to investigate by Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan as the province looks to take action to trim spending. Several recommendations on the horse racing industry were issued to the provincial government Feb. 15 by an independent commission led by economist Don Drummond.

The key recommendation outlined in the Drummond report calls for the provincial government to “review and rationalize the current provincial financial support provided to the horse racing industry.”

The province would consider taking a significant portion of the approximately $345 million per year it has paid the industry since 1998 through the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. slots-at-racetracks program. The province gets 75% of slots revenue; tracks and horsemen split 20% of the revenue 50-50.

The racing industry refutes the province’s claim that the money provided is a subsidy. Sue Leslie, president of the Ontario Horse Racing Industry Association, said in a statement issued Feb. 13 that the program is beneficial for all parties involved.

“The OLG slots-at-racetracks program is not a subsidy, it is a successful revenue-sharing partnership between the government of Ontario, the Ontario horse racing industry, and the municipalities that host slots at racetracks,” said Leslie, president of the Ontario Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, which represents horsemen at Woodbine and Fort Erie Racetrack & Slots.

“We are an industry that has always survived on its own and never received a penny from the government,” Tropea said.

Ontario’s Standardbred industry may have the most to lose if the cuts are implemented in the provincial budget set to be released in March. Of the 17 racetracks in Ontario, 15 host harness racing in both urban and rural communities around the province.

“We believe this proposal is short-sighted, destructive, and vindictive, and will destroy rural Ontario and its precious agricultural industry,” Tropea said.

Though the OHRIA has no plan to be directly involved in the rally at this time, Leslie is hopeful all horse people will contact their local government officials to have their voices heard.

“We encourage the Thoroughbred, Standardbred, and Quarter Horse racing communities to speak with their members of Provincial Parliament and let them know how devastating this would be to our industry,” she said.