Chantell Robertson bet the farm on standard-bred racing.
That bet looked good in 2004. But in 2012, with the province determined to cut costs and the future of horse racing in Ontario uncertain, Robertson and her family are facing the prospect of losing their investment entirely.
“With the government announcement we have no stability of knowing what’s going to happen next year,” Robertson said from her home in Chelmsford, near Sudbury.
“As of the end of November when the meet ends here and the horses go away they’re probably not going to come back.”
Robertson, her husband Jason and their two kids have sunk $1.2 million into a custom-made standard-bred training facility, complete with a half-mile track and space for 120 horses.
But since Finance Minister Dwight Duncan announced in his spring budget that Ontario would cancel the Slots for Racetracks program – pulling back more than $300 million in annual slot machine revenues out of the racing industry and back into government coffers, the family has had a For Sale sign out.
“I had one guy look and he said ‘Nice farm. but I’m not interested’,” she said, adding if she can’t find a buyer she might look at investing even more money she doesn’t have to convert to a riding facility, a business she knows little about.
“If there’s no racing and we can’t find the funds to switch over to a riding facility, then I’ll probably end up losing it,” she said.
“I’m sure I’m not the only one in Ontario that is facing this problem.”
What galls the most is the lack of notice the province gave – slots cash will dry up in March 2013 – with only $50-million over three years in transition money offered so far.
“If the government had just given some forewarning, we wouldn’t have kept investing in this place, and building it into what it has become,” she said. “To pull the rug out from under us with no notice- it’s completely unfair.
“They keep saying they’re all about creating jobs and keeping people working. I don’t see how this is helping it whatsoever.”
New Democratic Party Leader Andrea Horwath said the government ignored people like the Robertsons and instead only listened to the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation.
“As a result, farms are literally putting put on the block, people are going out of business,” she said.
“I don’t think that’s a positive thing when we’re talking thousands and thousands of jobs and hundreds of families.”
Premier Dalton McGuinty has held out the prospect an expert panel may well recommend beefing up the transition cash for the industry but said Tuesday the province is tapped out and can’t afford money for horse racing while health and education go begging.
“The way we have it set up right now is simply not sustainable,” McGuinty said.
“I’m convinced that we’re all prepared to acknowledge we can’t keep going on the way that we have, that we can take steps to put in place a strong, viable and sustainable industry.”