by DAVE PINK
The president of the Ontario Horse Racing Industry Association (OHRIA) said she welcomes the provincial government’s appointment of a three-member panel to study and make recommendations on the future of horse racing in the province.
The creation of the panel, along with plans to spend up to $50 million to help the racing industry transition to a future without slot machines, was announced today by Agriculture Minister Ted McMeekin.
“OHRIA has been pushing very hard to get someone to sit down with us for a meaningful dialogue,” said Sue Leslie. “We want to sit down with this panel to review our expenses and the economic data to prove our point.”
But Leslie said she is disturbed by the ministry’s use of the word transition, and the ministry’s promise to have Employment Ontario assist racing industry employees to find new jobs.
“We’re not looking for a way to transition people out of the industry. We’re looking for a way to sustain our industry,” she said. “I don’t like the word transition. It is our intent to work together to develop a sustainable plan to save the industry.”
Ontario Lottery and Gaming (OLG) announced in March it would end its 14-year partnership with the province’s horse tracks and relocate its slot machines into urban centres — a move that Leslie said could potentially put 60,000 full- and part-time horse industry jobs in jeopardy. She said at the time the OLG decision did not make economic sense.
Under an arrangement set in late 1998, when the slot machines started moving into the tracks, a deal was struck that allowed the province to receive 75 per cent of the profits — or about $1 billion a year — while 20 per cent went to the track and the remaining five per cent went to the host municipality.
OLG has since paid out $3.7 billion to the racetracks and the horse industry. The racing industry is expected to receive a payment of $340 million from OLG this year.
Former provincial cabinet ministers Elmer Buchanan, John Snobelen and John Wilkinson will form the panel. They will report their conclusions to McMeekin toward the end of summer. BF
More needed to save Ontario harness racing: industry