Loss of slots revenue at racetracks threatens jobs
NORTHUMBERLAND — MPP Rob Milligan is convinced ending the Slots at Racetracks program will destroy the horse racing industry in Ontario.
But the Northumberland-Quinte West MPP still holds out hope that Premier Dalton McGuinty and his Liberal government will reverse their decision.
“I’m hoping cooler heads will prevail,” he told county council Aug. 15.
The government plans to end the partnership between Ontario’s Lottery and Gaming Corporation and the province’s racetracks, and re-allocate the $345 million in funding to health and education.
The issue “is being mishandled,” Mr. Milligan said, but “to give Mr. McGuinty and the Liberals credit,” they have established a panel of former agriculture ministers to look at the future of the industry.
“They’re looking to listen to any ideas, what I’m looking for is feedback from yourselves,” he told council members.
Mr. Milligan said 60,000 jobs in the province directly or indirectly tied to horse racing are potentially threatened. The industry “has a huge impact on local economies in rural Ontario, he said, and “a lot of money is spent by farmers in the urban centres.”
The province is recognized as producing some of the best horses in the world, he added.
Both mayors Mark Lovshin (Hamilton Township) and Dalton McDonald (Alnwick/Haldimand Township) said the loss of government support would be “devastating.”
Mayor Lovshin said the industry should have been given more time to make the adjustment, noting those who will be affected include veterinarians, truckers, and farmers who grow hay in addition to breeders, harness racers and racetrack employees.
Many people who have worked in the racing business for years won’t be able to make the switch to another career, he said.
Mr. Milligan agreed, saying they will find it very difficult moving to a new line of work.
“It’s something that’s concerning, I hope the government looks at the cost of those individuals who are going to be unemployed and are going to have to be retrained.”
“This is serious stuff,” Mayor McDonald said, pointing out the co-op in Grafton will be affected by the “chain reaction” if the Province goes ahead with its plan.
The Slots at Racetracks program, set up in 1998, covers the costs of operating and maintaining racetracks that have slot machines operated by the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation.
In a news release issued Aug. 14, Mr. Milligan said an economic analysis done for the government determined 11 of Ontario’s 17 racetracks could shut down.
It also states 3,500 to 5,800 jobs will be lost annually, which the MPP stated “dramatically underestimates the potential job losses and completely overlooks the true economic spinoffs the equine industry creates throughout rural Ontario.”