What you are about to read is a fairy tale that once had a happy ending. Then came along a new author who is wanting to put an alternate ending on the story, turning it into a horror story.
Once upon a time, there was a government (that many people professed ONLY cared about “Big Business”) that saw an industry in decline and devised a plan to “throw it a bone”, so to speak. That industry was the horseracing business in Ontario - harness, thoroughbred and quarter horse; all of them. The government’s plan was to install slot rooms INSIDE the premises of the racetracks. This “agreement” was intended to be a “landlord/tenant” type agreement - not much different than if you or I rented space to open a store and agreed to pay an agreed to a % of the profits as “rent”.
This agreement turned out to be wildly successful for all involved, as the government raked in 75% of the massive profits compared to 10% to the horsemen (purses) and 10% to the track owners. Even the host communities benefited as they were given 5% of the take as well which was used for new sports facilities, improvements to hospitals and infrastructure.
The government enjoyed BILLIONS of dollars in revenue that it had not previously had. Best of all, the racetracks thrived - purses soared, new owners were attracted, breeding programs attracted high-profile sires that would likely not have stood at stud in the province under the old system. Clearly the ending on this fairytale was a happy one for all involved, and they would all live happily ever after.
Not so fast. A new government (the type that is supposed to support and benefit the “common folk”) took power. Fiscal responsibility was not one of their strengths and their free spending created a huge debt. They hired a consultant who pointed out that there was a juicy $345 million sitting there ripe for the plucking that was “given” to the horseracing industry as a “subsidy” in 2011. The government drooled. $345 million? [Drool} “What are we waiting for?”, the government thought. “Let’s grab that cash! We don’t have to subsidize those farmers!”. They fail to mention the $1.1 billion they raked out of the slot rooms with no effort whatsoever, other than their agency, the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. operating the day-to-day business in the slot rooms. Keep in mind, the industry in general is comprised mostly of rural folk who don’t typically support the current government to begin with.
Confused yet? Don’t be. It’s quite simple. Here’s how the current government turned this fairy tale into a horror story: They see the $345 million and can’t help themselves. They want that money. Knowing already that most of the 60,000 people that will be affected if they renege on the agreement do not fall into their typical voter demographic, the government, as short-sighted as it is, sees very little risk. They are even “hedging their bets” by broadcasting radio attack ads that pit “parents” against horsemen and “fatcat racetrack owners”.
In these ads, the government argues that it is far more important for parents to have full-day kindergarten provided (subsidized daycare?) than honor this agreement with the industry. I’m sure they are hoping that by broadcasting these misleading ads they will pick up a few votes to compensate for the small number of votes they will lose from the horse racing industry if they follow through and renege. The previous government created the “landlord/tenant" agreement because they knew that if they threw up slot rooms all over the province, it would surely cannibalize the pari-mutuel wagering business at the tracks. The slot revenue has been a boon to the industry. Horse owners, breeders, trainers, drivers, caretakers, farriers and others who stand to be affected are afraid for their livelihoods and have already organized successful rallies at the Ontario legislature and the Premier’s constituency office. But this Premier will not be easily swayed.
This industry needs our support. I am a lifelong fan and bettor of all breeds of horseracing and have seen massive improvements in the facilities themselves and racing in general. Harness racing in Ontario, in particular, takes a back seat to no one. We have a lot of the current stars of the sport, both equine and human. The Ontario breeding program recently gained perennial leading sire Bettor’s Delight. How long do you think he’ll, stand here if purses drop by 30% to 40%? If you answered “not long”, you are correct. This government has been pilloried in just about every important publication in the province including all the major Toronto newspapers. This agreement works. It is NOT a “subsidy” as the government would have us believe; rather a partnership. I love racing. This government needs to hear from others that do and believe it is an institution worth celebrating, embracing and preserving. The budget comes out in 3 weeks and it has been obvious from the start that the government is receiving little support on its position to cease this very successful revenue-sharing agreement. It’s not too late to support the horseracing industry. Here’s how you can help, too:
The Ontario Horse Racing Industry Association has provided this link: http://value4money.ca/take-action/ that allows you to send a message to all Members of Provincial Parliament which lets them know that you think their actions could be disastrous for an industry that is firmly entrenched in the Ontario economy.