Never mind that Ontario is one of the leading harness racing jurisdictions in the world and Guelph is its epicentre. The final report is in and standardbred racing will take the largest hit from the Liberal government’s decision to cancel the Slots at Racetracks program. Purses will be slashed by 60 per cent starting in 2013.
That’s the word from the three-member Horse Racing Industry Panel in a report released Tuesday by the Guelph-based Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs that finally delivered some, but not all, numbers to an industry withering on the vine with each passing day without concrete information on which to plan its future.
The bottom line is that total standardbred purses in the province will be tied solely to pari-mutuel wagering (betting on the horses). That means total harness racing purses in the province are projected to be just over $63 million in 2013 without a cut from slots. That’s down some $96 million from its 2011 level of $159 million. Purses for thoroughbred racing will decline by 17 per cent.
Harness race dates will be slashed in half from 1,544 to 800.
Most troubling is the fact the 30,000 people with full-time equivalent jobs in Ontario’s horse racing industry still have no idea where some industry money will come from — that’s a government secret, the report says — how many and which tracks will be open, how much money will be in the world-leading Ontario Sires Stakes program and what racing opportunities will exist and at what level two short months from now.
As such, the value of Ontario-produced horses continues to plummet and the breeders who produced them and made the bulk of their investment years ago under the funding model that was in place for over 10 years, continue to take it in the teeth.
Many of those who race horses here are planning exit strategies.
There’s no question horse racing has major problems and the report does offer good suggestions for a more accountable, sustainable model, but it’s a little like renovating your kitchen by nuking your whole house first.
Simply put, this mess was created by government incompetence and ignorance on a horseracing file that helps deliver billions of dollars in revenue to the province. Now that same government —with Queen’s Park closed for business until February — is trying to bumble its way out of it with promises of a brighter future predicated on less money, fewer horses and dates and greater gaming competition than ever from horse racing’s former government partner.
It simply didn’t need to happen this way.
Since the Slots at Racetracks program isn’t costing taxpayers a dime, common sense and simple decency suggests maintaining the current funding model until details about a post-slots model could be figured out. We may know more details by Dec. 1, but don’t bet on it, given the way the last eight months have gone.
Will Grand River Raceway in Elora survive? No idea.
Will Mohawk Racetrack in Campbellville and its sister track, Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto, make it? Likely, because they are home to two of the most profitable slot operations in the province and the Ontario Lottery and Gaming corporation won’t be able to have new gaming sites of any scope open in five months when the current slots deal expires.
How many race days, breeders, horsepeople and horses will be left in Ontario by that point is anyone’s guess.
All that’s certain is what few numbers horse racing can get out of this government certainly aren’t pretty.