Despite a thorough consultation period with stakeholders on the future of the horse racing industry in Ontario, more work is needed to determine how best to help the sector transition to a more sustainable model.
“I think there is more work to do,” said John Snobelen, who alongside Elmer Buchanan and John Wilkinson, all former cabinet ministers, were handpicked in June to form a panel by the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, Ted McMeekin, MPP for Ancaster, Dundas, Flamborough and Westdale.
The group’s interim report will be presented to the Minister tomorrow (Friday, August 17).
Since its formation, the transition panel has consulted with hundreds of individuals, concerned about the provincial Liberal government’s decision to axe the Slots at Racetracks program.
For more than a decade, the horse racing industry, which employs some 60,000 Ontarians, has received 20 per cent of slots revenues to fund purses, enhance live racing and bolster the province’s agricultural sector.
Effective March 31, 2013, that long-standing profit-sharing agreement will expire and the horse racing industry will experience a $345-million annual funding shortfall – a devastating blow that will cripple the industry, say local horsemen.
More than 500 industry stakeholders were consulted during a 30-day period and provided the panel with a strong foundation for its interim report.
Three overriding concerns were identified during the panel’s discussions with horse people and the associations that represent their interests, said Snobelen.
“First, there’s a big concern about the end of the Slots at Racetracks Program and the significant effect it has on the ability to conduct horse racing in the province,” said the former PC cabinet member.
Further concerns included the livelihood of horse people with limited transferable skills and the wellbeing of horses.
“To the best of our ability, we have reflected some of the things (in our report) that have been told to us,” said Snobelen.
The report also outlines what will “happen, foreseeably,” should the government stand firm on its decision to axe the Slots at Racetracks Program. The panel also addresses the impacts the $50-million transition fund will have on the sector.
Throughout the consultation process, stakeholders were actively engaged.
“People in the horse racing industry should be proud of the representation of their interest to the panel,” said Snobelen. “These are difficult issues and tough problems, but they’ve been very responsive.”
Snobelen believes the panel now has the information it needs to further consult government on the industry’s future.
“Any recommendations that we would have would be recommendations for the minister to direct the panel further,” said Snobelen, a National Reining Horse Association’s Hall of Fame inductee.