Below is the text of a letter issued by the Standardbred Breeders of Ontario Association voicing their full support for OHRIA’s plan for the future of horse racing and breeding in Ontario.
SBOA Letter Of Support
We, the directors of the Standardbred Breeders of Ontario Association want to endorse and fully support the plan that has been presented by OHRIA. Breeders have been on the front lines and each one of us have sustained serious financial loss since the announcement ending the “slots at racetracks” program as of March 2013 took place. We have felt the hard reality of the situation. Each one of us is concerned about weathering further losses this fall at the yearling sales and realizes that we are fighting for our lives and for the existence of this industry. As responsible breeders who really love our horses, we are concerned about how government decisions will also impact our horses from a welfare standpoint.
None of us are happy about the position the industry finds itself in but we also feel the need to take a realistic approach and support a plan that has a chance of being adopted as a means of moving forward. As of today, we have nothing that ensures our industry will survive. Government has already taken steps to pull slots out of three racetracks. The announcement ending the slots at racetracks program has been made and as of today, we only have an industry that has revenues from pari-mutual betting alone beyond March of next year and that does not leave us with the possibility of a sustainable industry. Reinstatement of the slots at racetracks program would be ideal and we’ve all argued the merits of why this should occur. However, time and time again we see that this government has not waivered from this position nor is it likely to.
The OHRIA task force and Stanley Sadinsky have had an extremely difficult mandate and one that has not been taken lightly. Stanley Sadinsky has been the right person to lead the charge both from the standpoint that he has extensive experience in understanding the mechanics of the horse racing industry and he is a highly intelligent individual who is well connected and respected within government. There are many that suggest that we would have averted the current crisis had his original report been adopted but unfortunately we can’t turn back the hands of time.
We have to commend those that have worked on developing the framework. It is far easier to be a critic than to be tasked with developing a plan that has to make so many assumptions and leads the industry towards self-sustainability. Ultimately, the government has the ability to accept or reject the framework document along with other recommendations the government panel puts forth. Most industry participants are not going to applaud a plan that delivers anything less than what is currently received so the exercise is a difficult one. The plan starts with a cash investment by government but over ensuing years, we believe it must build towards a more successful model that is self-sustaining and self-governing. This MUST be a priority.
There seems to be many misconceptions concerning the plan. While the plan speaks about an investment into the industry of $210M while a new model is developed, it also speaks to premiums being paid to tracks offering live racing, partnering with casino operators to derive additional income, the ability of tracks that want to offer racing (that have not been selected by OLG as gaming sites) to apply for funding to augment purse levels, potential partnerships with sports books, higher level of transparency and accountability with benchmarking, development of a marketing plan for the industry, streamlining processes to gain efficiencies, purse pooling, development of new wagering products etc.. These are all good business concepts that the SBOA supports.
The SBOA also supports the continuation of the HIP program at its current levels albeit the funding model would be different. This enables horsemen who have invested in the “Ontario product” to continue to participate in a sires stakes program that is still the best in the world. Investment and support of the development of Ontario bred and sired horses must continue if the industry as a whole is to survive. It also is a key component in addressing the agricultural contribution breeders make to the province and the long-term financial investment and commitment that is required.
Ideally, our preference would be that a solid revenue stream from other gaming conducted thru or at racetracks combined with pari-mutual betting provide the financial needs of the industry as a whole, in lieu of what starts off as a “subsidy”. There should be an opportunity and incentive for the industry to embrace and grow the “gaming” business it is entrusted with as this creates a “win-win” situation for all stakeholders, government included. The racing industry has undoubtedly demonstrated to be the most successful partnership based on its ability to deliver financially to the government year after year. We feel it is in the government’s best interest to continue to invest with a partner that has this proven track record rather than risk needed revenues for an unsubstantiated forecast. The “new gaming” model proposed by the OLG does nothing to support agriculture or to support jobs and investment in rural Ontario.
Sustainability needs to be a core priority for the long-term future of our industry. From this standpoint, we need to insist that government is truly committed to helping the industry transition to a self-sustaining model and this must be measured to ensure we move in this direction. If this plan is adopted, we now have a five-year window to remodel our industry, for all stakeholders to take an active role in promoting and rejuvenating the sport and to make sure that the funds we have are used wisely and invested for the better good of the sport.
The SBOA board believes that the industry must be prepared to make changes in order to survive. We are either part of the problem or part of the solution. The OHRIA plan requires both the support of the industry and constructive industry input if it is to have a chance of acceptance by the government.
Conversely, to take the position that only the historical status quo will do with no exceptions will in all likelihood lead to nothing. The SBOA is prepared to continue to support and work with OHRIA in addressing the finer details in the framework document to meet the needs of the industry, other stakeholders and government.
The Standardbred Breeders of Ontario Association
Dr. Keith Colquhoun, Larry Drysdale, Ken Grant, Matt Harrison, Anna Meyers, Larry Morrison, Walter Parkinson, Caroline Thornton, Liz Waples, Brian Wong, Sanford Zimmerman