The Ontario government tailored an economic impact report to justify its decision to scrap the Slots at Racetracks Program, critics charged Tuesday.
Progressive Conservative MPP Ted Arnott received a copy the report from one of his Wellington-Halton Hills constituents after the man filed an freedom of information request.
The report, confidential advice to the government on cancelling the Slots at Racetracks Program (SARP), was revised and delivered to cabinet March 14 — two days after the Liberals announced SARP would end by March 2013.
“It appears to be a whitewash after the fact rather than a real economic analysis,” said Arnott, adding the report “dramatically” understates the true economic impact of cancelling SARP.
The program, which shares slot revenues between the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. and race tracks, has directed about $345 million per year to the horse racing industry and $1 billion per year to the government.
On March 12 the Liberals said $345 million would be reallocated to areas such as education and health care by cancelling the program and relying on a new casino to raise those funds.
The report given to Arnott concludes cancelling SARP would likely close 11 of Ontario’s 17 race tracks and eliminate up to 5,800 jobs per year.
“The report dramatically understates the potential job losses, completely overlooking the true economic spin-offs in rural Ontario,” said Arnott, suggesting many more jobs will be lost and all 17 race tracks may close.
“The government hadn’t done its homework before its cancellation of the program and this report certainly appears to confirm it.”
Sue Leslie, president of the Ontario Horse Racing Industry Association, said the $345 million supports an industry of nearly 60,000 workers who help pump roughly $2 billion into the economy ever year.
“The industry is being annihilated,” said Leslie, adding the industry was never consulted about the “devastating” cancellation.
A spokesman for Finance Minister Dwight Duncan said the government has stuck to its same bottom line throughout the decision-making process.
“At the end of the day, we need to ask ourselves whether the government should be in the business of healthcare and education or horseracing,” said the spokesman.