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Letter to the Editor

To every concerned citizen in Ontario and to the Liberal government:

I am writing you this letter today to voice my concern at the latest Liberal radio ads relating to the horse racing industry. To insinuate that these are a secret deal with a few wealthy racetrack owners is untruthful and a misrepresentation of a very successful revenue sharing agreement for all parties which benefits all of Ontario.

In the late 1990s and throughout the past decade, the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (now the OLG) entered into a revenue sharing agreement with the horse racing industry and host municipalities in Ontario to allow the placement of slot machines at racetracks.

The racetracks provided the OLG with access to their existing facilities, saving the government the massive expense of building their own facilities and having to gain the approval of municipalities and the public to build gambling venues in their backyards.

This agreement was not entered into lightly by the horse racing industry. After more than two years of economic review and negotiation, both the horse racing industry and the Ontario government’s Management Board of Cabinet agreed that a 20 per cent share of the slots revenue could offset the loss of horse racing’s wagering dollar and customer base to sustain the horse racing industry. This revenue share would also help to offset the cost of operating and maintaining the buildings and properties in which the OLG’s government operated slots are housed.

For more than 10 years, the Slots at Racetracks Program has been a highly successful partnership which has allowed the horse racing industry to sustain itself and continue providing many economic benefits to the rural and municipal economies, while earning the provincial government more than $1.3 billion in revenue every year.

The OLG revenue sharing program has offset the negative financial impact slots at racetracks would otherwise have on the racing industry’s bottom line. The ever increasing competition imposed by the slots and other expanded gaming would further erode the wagering dollar to the point that the industry’s survival would be at serious risk.

The government is looking to reduce the horse racing industry’s revenue share at a time when they are looking to expand their own gaming operations in direct competition with horse racing. In addition, if the proposed changes to the Criminal Code are implemented, the provinces will be allowed to operate sports betting, once again in direct competition with the horse racing industry.

By preserving the existing program, the government would continue to collect $1.3 billion annually from the race horse industry while ensuring Ontario’s horse racing industry remains economically sound for those rural communities and the 60,000 families that rely on the race horse industry for employment.

According to Budget 2011, slot machines at racetracks were responsible, in part, for $1.5 billion of hospital operating expenses, $120 million for the Ontario Trillium Foundation, $41 million for problem gambling and related programs, $10 million for amateur sports, and $69 million for general government priorities.

If the Liberals want to see the government revenue stabilize and grow, they can’t be ending programs that generate $1.3 billion a year for the government, which is exactly what Dwight Duncan is proposing to do.

If this is too much to comprehend in one letter, let me sum it up for you in something that might be easier to understand:

Imagine the government came into your business and wanted to set up shop in direct competition to you. Since they knew they would be cannibalizing your business, a mutual agreement was struck that they would give you 20 per cent of their profits. Then later they said, “we’re ripping up that agreement and want 100 per cent of the profits.”

That is what the Ontario government is proposing. They asked to set up slot machines at the tracks, where they didn’t have to build any facilities and could cash in on the betting public coming to those facilities. There was a mutual agreement that 20 per cent of the slot profits at these tracks would go back into racing. Now they want 100 per cent.

These aren’t tax dollars. No tax dollars have ever gone into racing. This is a profit sharing arrangement that has huge economic benefits to the rural economy.

It is imperative to get the message out to every person in Ontario that horse racing is not taking anything away from education or healthcare. Racing is not a subsidy and has never taken any taxpayer money, ever.

We in the horse racing industry are also Canadian citizens who have children in Kindergarten and parents and grandparents in nursing homes. We do not want to take anything away from that but if the Slots at Racetracks Program is taken away from the racing industry, the Liberal government will be facing much larger problem. There will be approximately 60,000 people either looking for a new job or be forced into needing unemployment or welfare assistance from the government. How can that be saving anyone any money at all?

Regards,

Stephanie Horner, Race horse owner, caretaker, taxpayer, and voter, St. Marys

(Excerpts of this letter were taken from information provided by the Ontario Horse Racing Industry Association, the Ontario Harness Horse Association, Standardbred Canada and fellow horse owner Sue Hutton.)

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