Horse-racing industry stakeholders decry end of slot machine funding
Photo by Jason Teakle, Brant News
NDP MPP for Essex Taras Natyshak, left, speaks with Brant NDP member Brian Van Tilborg and Mount Pleasant-area horse breeder Harry Rutherford.
Brant residents whose livelihoods depend on Ontario's horse-racing industry recently met with an NDP MPP to express anger over the provincial Liberal government's plan to cut funding to the industry in March next year.
Essex MPP Taras Natyshak met with about 12 people at Pleasant Ridge Saddlery on Colborne Street West to hear their concerns.
"Roughly 60,000 people in the province rely on the horse-racing industry as their means of employment," Natyshak said. "With this singular decision, it has led to a massive contraction of those jobs."
The Ontario government plans to remove the revenue-sharing Slots at Racetracks Program – in place since 1998 – by March 31 next year. As part of the program, about $345 million per year has been split between Ontario's 18 race tracks, municipalities with race tracks, horse breeders and others involved in the industry.
Under its funding formula, the program provides 75 per cent of slot-machine revenue generated at race tracks to the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Commission. Five per cent of revenue goes to the municipalities where race tracks are located, 10 per cent goes to the host track and 10 per cent to those involved in the industry through purses, according to the Ontario Horse Racing Industry Association.
The industry, which spends about $2 billion annually in the province, will see its share of revenue disappear once the cuts take effect.
Since 2001, the Slots at Racetracks Program has provided more than $9 billion in revenue to the Province of Ontario, according to the association.
"The government is making room for private casinos to come into the province and eliminating the competition that is posed by the horse racing industry," Natyshak said. "We believe the decision is wrong-headed, ill-conceived and not good public policy for those who work in the industry and rural Ontario."
Harry Rutherford, a horse breeder and owner of Cool Creek Farm near Mount Pleasant, says the decision to end the Slots at Racetracks Program has hurt his business already.
"It has really hit the industry hard," Rutherford said. "We don't have that money coming in now.
"If you are going to buy a race horse, then you want to know what you're going to be racing for (in relation to) purses. If they don't know what they can make, why would they spend about $60,000 on a race horse without a known return on their investment?"
Brant NDP member Brian Van Tilborg said the government's decision has gutted the horse-racing industry in Ontario.
"A couple of thousand jobs just in Brant riding are at stake," Van Tilborg said. "We should be growing these industries, not shrinking them. We have seen enough job losses. We don't need this added burden on our community.
"These were self-sustaining industries based on this formula. When you take away the formula, the industries crash."