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Ontario Official Targets Racing's Slots Money

The province is facing a $16 billion deficit, and horse racing is being targeted.

A top government official in Ontario Feb. 13 questioned the $345 million horse racing gets from province-operated slot machines given a $16 billion budget deficit.

Finance Minister Dwight Duncan made the comments before release of a report that will make recommendations on Ontario finances, according to published reports in Canada.

Racetrack slots are operated by the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. in a partnership that gives horse racing a 20% cut. At Woodbine, Ontario’s flagship racetrack, the track and horsemen split the money 50-50.

Duncan in a speech called the funding a subsidy and said it’s “no longer sustainable.” There were no details as to whether all tracks or just some would be impacted.

Soon after the talk Woodbine Entertainment Group, which reinvests its share of slots revenue into racing and capital improvements, issued a statement touting the benefits of the partnership with the province.

“Woodbine Entertainment Group is the engine of the Ontario horse racing industry—an industry which in 2010 was responsible for approximately 60,000 jobs and over $2 billion of expenditures annually,” WEG president and chief executive officer Nick Eaves said. “WEG is very proud of its partnership with the Province of Ontario.

“WEG entered into a contract with the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation in 1999. WEG has invested significantly in providing the venue, the infrastructure, and many of the support services for the OLG’s slots-at-racetracks operations at Woodbine and Mohawk. The result has been a fantastic partnership which has generated significant revenue for the Province of Ontario.

“WEG is committed to working with the province as it undertakes this review of job creation and economic growth.

Ontario has 17 tracks, most of them for Standardbred racing. The Ontario Horse Racing Industry Association recently issued an economic development report that suggests 80% of racing’s share is invested in rural areas of the province, and that horse racing and breeding is the second-largest subset of agriculture in Ontario.

"Eliminating the OLG slots-at-racetracks program would substantially reduce jobs in rural Ontario and take $138 million of funding from the municipalities that host OLG slots at racetracks," OHRIA president Sue Leslie said. "We are hopeful the government of Ontario will recognize the damage that would be done to both the rural and municipal Ontario economy if they were to change or reduce the OLG slots revenue-sharing program."

Racing-related groups recently called for support of racetrack slots in the wake of plans to perhaps construct a non-racing mega-casino in Toronto, where Woodbine is located.