Ontario ups ante on horseracing support plan

The formal kickoff of Ontario’s new five-year “horseracing partnership plan” came Tuesday with a larger pot of funding than originally budgeted.

The province, as of Tuesday, has earmarked “up to $500 million to support its world-class horse racing industry,” up from $400 million over five years when the new five-year plan was first laid out last October. [Related story]

This racing season, the partnership plan is to provide support for 16 racetracks in Ontario: Woodbine, which hosts thoroughbred and standardbred racing; Fort Erie, with thoroughbred racing; Ajax, with quarter horse racing; and the 13 tracks offering standardbred racing.

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The new plan stems from the province’s March 2012 announcement that it would shut down the Slots at Racetracks program (SARP) at the end of March 2013, costing the province’s racetracks funding which was expected to total $340 million in fiscal 2012 alone.

SARP, set up in 1998, was the revenue-sharing agreement between OLG, the province’s racetracks and host municipalities, which allowed government-operated slot machines to be placed at racetrack facilities. The province, in ending SARP, aimed to allow slot machines in Ontario to be “located more strategically.” [Related story]

The new plan paid out Tuesday proposes to increase purses and race dates across the province, while “enhancing support” for Ontario racehorse breeders and integrating horse racing into the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp.’s (OLG) modernization plan.

Integration into OLG’s plan is expected to include opportunities for the racing sector to develop “new gaming products” in partnership with OLG, and provide for “consideration of horse racing in the land-based gaming modernization process.”

From the horse breeders’ perspective, the new plan also calls for an enhanced Horse Improvement Program, which is to provide “incentives to recognize excellence for Ontario-bred and -sired horses racing in their home province” and thus “maximize the economic impact of racing in Ontario.”

The plan now also includes measures to ensure racehorses are “treated humanely both while they are racing and after retirement.”

The plan as laid out Tuesday earmarks funding for Equine Guelph to help develop programs to address health and welfare issues of retired horses and “overall horse and herd health concerns” of the industry in Ontario.

The plan sets up a formal alliance of “innovative, leading” standardbred tracks (Woodbine, Mohawk, Flamboro Downs, Georgian Downs, Western Fair, Clinton, Hanover, Grand River) while increasing operational support and funding for purses for “regional” tracks (Fort Erie, Ajax, Rideau-Carleton, Kawartha Downs, Sudbury Downs, Hiawatha, Dresden, Leamington).

The plan is expected to provide regional tracks with “the tools to develop new sources of revenue and to build business relationships that will support a sustainable industry in Ontario,” while standardbred tracks will work together to “implement operational efficiencies, co-ordinate a year-round racing calendar, develop a program of racing that is attractive to foreign and domestic customers, and establish consistent purses.”

The new Ontario Standardbred Alliance, to be led by Woodbine Entertainment Group (WEG), said in a separate release it expects to deliver “more efficient” racetrack operations through “consolidation of services and purchasing and a co-ordinated approach to attracting new customers to Ontario standardbred racing.”

To that end, the plan also includes naming WEG as the single operator of teletheatres and “account wagering” in Ontario, consolidating all off-track operations under WEG’s “Champions” and “HorsePlayer Interactive” brands.

“Relieved”

“I’m confident this plan will not only create a sustainable racing industry in Ontario, but will create jobs and provide more opportunities for success,” Premier Kathleen Wynne said in the province’s release Tuesday. Ontario, she said, “is now the most innovative jurisdiction in North America for horseracing.”

In an op-ed piece in last Saturday’s Toronto Sun, John Snobelen, a former provincial natural resources minister and member of the province’s Horse Racing Industry Transition Panel, hailed the new funding package ahead of its launch as “essential to support the jobs and investment that come from the racing industry.”

Direct funding, he added, “comes with the accountability measures that were missing under SARP.”

While initially critical of the province’s move to cancel SARP, Snobelen wrote Saturday, the cancellation has “brought the industry together and created synergies that were previously impossible.”

Sue Leslie, president of the Ontario Horse Racing Industry Association, added in the province’s release Tuesday that the group is “relieved that funding is in place to begin stabilizing the industry” and hailed Wynne for her “direct involvement” in developing the new plan.

Tuesday’s launch does not wipe out animosity in the racehorse breeding sector toward the province over SARP’s cancellation. A group of over 30 standardbred breeders filed suit last month seeking $65 million in damages “arising out of the manner in which (SARP) was cancelled.” [Related story]

The plan to cancel SARP, they said in their statement of claim, came “without prior notice, consultation or any offer of compensation to the plaintiffs.” — AGCanada.com Network

 

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