The number of days for horse racing in Ontario should be slashed in half, and the government is making the right decision to no longer use revenue from racetrack slot machines to prop up the industry.
These are the key recommendations of a government-appointed panel examining the horse racing industry, according to sources.
The government plans to release the panel’s final report on Tuesday afternoon.
According to the sources familiar with the report, the panel is recommending that the number of horse racing days in Ontario be set at 800 a year, roughly in line with what the industry is seeking.
The panel also recommends increasing the number of horses for each race to help attract more betting and that the gross payout of about $130-million from betting on horse races be distributed between the thoroughbred and standardbred sectors.
People who go to the track to bet on horse races should be the benchmark used by the government to determine how much funding the industry should receive, one source said.
“Now it’s an aberration,” he said. “We have billions of dollars going into an industry that shouldn’t be that big.”
The government set up the three-member panel – consisting of former cabinet ministers Elmer Buchanan, John Snobelen and John Wilkinson – after announcing in the budget in March that it was terminating a program that sent $345-million from slot-machine revenues to tracks and horsemen in 2011 alone.
About 15 years ago, the province agreed to pay rent of 20 per cent of slots revenues in exchange for the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation placing the machines at tracks. The province’s racetracks have received $3.7-billion in slots revenue since the program began.
Finance Minister Dwight Duncan has said the cash-strapped government, which is grappling with a deficit forecast to hit $14.4-billion this fiscal year, can no longer afford to keep propping up the industry.
Industry officials have said losing the funding would be devastating. Another report commissioned by the government estimated that 7,500 to 13,000 race horses in Ontario would be put down if the industry were to be shuttered entirely. The standardbred sector would be hit especially hard, according to a draft of the report prepared by McKinsey & Company.
At some tracks, slots money makes up more than 90 per cent of purses. Already, three of 17 tracks have closed.
In its interim report released in August, the panel acknowledged that losing revenue from the slots could kill the industry, and said the $50-million in transition funding, spread over three years, is not enough.
The amount of funding the panel is recommending will not be part of the final report released to the public. The panel has asked the government to withhold that figure and to enter into negotiations with the industry.