Yesterday during the Queen’s Park question period, Conservative MPP Randy Pettapiece from Perth-Wellington who serves as opposition critic for the horse racing industry, called on the Minister of Finance, Charles Sousa, to do more to help Ontario’s horse racing industry, and commit to keeping all 14 of Ontario’s racetracks open.
Pettapiece pointed out that it was the Liberal’s “misguided modernization program” which caused the industry to collapse in the first place. The OLGs modernization plan was initiated in 2012 under Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty and called for an end to the Slots-At-Racetrack-Program (SARP) along with OLG casinos to be sold to the private sector and new locations placed in around Ontario.
“By cancelling the Slots at Racetracks Program, the government left the horse racing industry a shadow of its former self. Racetracks, horsemen and local economies are still struggling,” said Pettapiece. “Instead of apologizing, the government plowed ahead with its misguided ‘modernization [plan].’ It’s going to put even more of the industry out of business.”
As was the case when new casinos were discussed in the mid-90s, communities across Ontario once again soundly rejected the OLGs new casino expansion plan and just last month Premier Wynn cancelled the plan to privatize the OLG. The government has tried to address the major problems in rural Ontario by the cancellation of SARP by recently proposing $100 million in annual funding through 2038. The racing industry will review this proposal in a series of consultations around the province in November.
“We still need to remember – the proposed funding will not come close to the previous revenue sharing agreement,” said Pettapiece referencing the $345 million in annual revenue that SARP previously provided the industry through the rental agreement the province had with the racetracks.
Pettapiece continued to question the government’s plan for its oversight of horse racing. He noted that without a firm commitment to keep casinos at many racetracks, that he shares the industry’s concerns that smaller tracks would be in jeopardy.
“Does the minister believe it’s ‘modern’ to wipe out a vital industry in rural areas?” he questioned.
In response, the Minister Sousa replied that the government has already made a two year commitment and proposes more.
“We’ve taken steps to support a stable industry by providing the appropriate funding by extending the government’s $100 million annual funding program by two years,” said Min. Sousa. “We’ve also passed legislation — operation of the Ontario Racing Commission with the OLG and the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario all of which promotes and allows the industry to benefit from a centralized marketing resource and expertise to expose more Ontarians to the thrill of horse racing.”
Minister Sousa ignored Pettapiece’s request to commit to keeping all racetracks open.