Ontario ponies up for two decades of horseracing

The Ontario government has put its next funding plan for the province’s horseracing sector on a substantially longer track.

The provincial government on Friday announced a funding agreement providing the sector with $105 million a year for 19 years starting April 1, 2019, to replace the five-year, $100 million-per-year Horse Racing Partnership Funding Program in place since April 2014.

The government, which faces a general election this summer on June 7, also pledged “additional supports for smaller racetracks and those that are experiencing financial shortfalls.”

The new funding agreement is expected to “empower the horse racing industry to work together to make long-term decisions about horse breeding, racing programs, capital investments and hiring,” the province said. “It will include specific measures focused on supporting community racetracks, including operational funding and purses.”

The government also committed to continue the Enhanced Horse Improvement Program and introduce a new Racetrack Sustainability Innovation Fund, providing up to $6 million over three years, beginning this year, to “help regional racetracks innovate, diversify and expand revenue sources.”

The new funding package for Ontario’s 15 racetracks “will provide owners, breeders and racetrack operators with the support they need to ensure stability and success for the long term,” Agriculture Minister Jeff Leal said in Friday’s release.

The funding is to be administered by Ontario Racing, formerly known as the Ontario Horse Racing Industry Association.

Hugh Mitchell, CEO of London’s Western Fair District, home to harness track The Raceway, described the new funding deal as “unprecedented in the racing industry” and providing “much needed job security for the people who work in the industry, and it will contribute greatly to restoring racing confidence and its ability to sustain itself for years to come.”

Ontario Racing is responsible for “representing industry interests, making strategic business decisions, and strengthening transparency and accountability,” the province said Friday.

The Ontario Racing board is to have equal representation of racetracks and breeders, with five seats for racetracks, five for breeders and an “independent” chair.

Ontario Racing, in a separate statement, described the funding agreement as “the result of years of collaboration between our industry, OLG and the Ontario government. It incorporates feedback from the industry provided through consultations, letters and meetings with government partners.”

Funding for Ontario’s horseracing sector has been a bone of contention since 2012, when the provincial government announced it would shut down the Slots at Racetracks program (SARP) at the end of March 2013.

SARP, the former revenue-sharing model between the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation, the racetracks and host municipalities, had allowed government-operated slot machines to be placed at racetrack facilities.

The province intended the move to allow slot machines in Ontario to be “located more strategically,” but also cost the racing sector annual funding worth over $300 million. — AGCanada.com Network

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