by DAVE PINK
A provincial government plan to end its partnership with Ontario’s horse racing tracks could cost the province $1 billion a year and put 60,000 full-and part-time jobs in jeopardy, says the president of the Ontario Horse Racing Industry Association.
“We think the government is making a very serious error,” said Sue Leslie, reacting to news Monday that Ontario Lottery and Gaming (OLG) has been directed to modernize the province’s gaming industry, a change that would leave the horse tracks – the current home to many of the province’s slot-machine operations -- out in the cold.
“Now what we have to do is educate the public and the MPPs,” she said. “Economically, this makes no sense to us.”
And the move could put Ontario horse racing out of business. “I’m thinking this might mean total devastation of the horse-racing industry,” said Leslie. “I just don’t know if the racing industry can survive.”
Under an arrangement set in 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 was directed on Monday to initiate a massive redirection of the province’s gambling industry aimed at increasing the number of slot machine facilities in new, “strategic” locations and increasing the sale of lottery tickets, among other plans. A report from OLG contends the moves will increase revenues by $1 billion yearly, and create 2,300 jobs in the gaming industry and another 4,000 jobs in the hospitality and retail sectors by 2018.
But Leslie isn’t buying it.
She doubts the province will ever get a better deal than it has from the tracks because no private operator of any slot machine facility would be willing to settle for a mere 20 per cent of the take. “The government is going to have to take a hard look at this now,” said Leslie.
There are 17 horse tracks throughout Ontario – some privately owned, while others are non-profit organizations. Leslie said the racing industry was healthy up until the time when the province initiated lotteries and opened the door to slot machine and casino gambling, giving the public more places to spend their betting dollars.
Leslie said that in 2010 Ontario’s horse tracks paid $382 million in taxes to the federal government, $261 million to the province and $138 million to the municipalities. “On the basis of value for the money, they won’t find a better deal.” BF