The report is in but the bottom line’s been left off.
The blue ribbon panel asked to study the future of horse racing in Ontario is recommending major changes — including slashing racing dates in half — but is holding back the amount of public subsidy it believes the industry should receive.
“We estimated the amount of public investment we believe is required to transition the industry to a sustainable base, subject to good faith negotiations, on an open book basis, with the industry,” panellists Elmer Buchanan, John Snobelen and John Wilkinson wrote in their final report, released Tuesday.
“We feel strongly that publicly releasing some of the estimates therein, particularly sensitive financial information concerning the amount of public support required for race tracks, would not be in the public interest today.
“We advise that this information should be withheld until such time as the government and the industry have concluded their negotiations.”
Horse tracks in Ontario have been sharing slot machine revenues with the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation since 1998. In 2011, the Slots at Racetracks Program (SARP) was worth about $345 million — money OLG and the provincial government want to see going to general revenues rather than horse racing.
The panel’s interim report, released in August, agreed SARP had propped up racing for more than a decade without asking much from the industry in return and should be ended. But it also said a three-year, $50-million transition fund the government offered to wean racing off slots revenue was inadequate.
The panel said while it won’t publicly release its proposed, three-year funding figure, it has shared it with the government.
“It is essential to avoid repeating the mistakes of SARP, which turned over funds to the industry with no strings attached,” the report says. “The panel believes that any new public funding for horse racing should be reviewed after three years.”
Besides recommending some taxpayer-funded financial support for the industry, the panel recommends slashing the number of racing days from 1,554 to 800, replacing SARP cash for purses with money from parimutuel wagering, turning the Ontario Racing Commission into a purely regulatory body and a greater role in oversight, and transitioning the industry for the ministry of agriculture.
Adopting the panel’s recommendations, the report says, should prevent the worst-case scenario of some 13,000 racehorses being euthanized. But the report does say the industry should explore adopting racehorse lifetime plans.
“The panel believes the moral obligation to provide a reasonable lifetime plan for the use and care of a horse rests with the breeder and the owner,” the report says.
“However, given the absence of any meaningful second career plans for thousands of racehorses bred in Ontario, the panel urges the government to take action on this long-standing issue.”