Sustainable Horse Racing Model Proposed
The final report from the Ontario Horse Racing Industry Transition Panel was released to the public on October 30, 2012. While the proposed Sustainable Racing Model forms a framework for the future racing industry in the province, the race is far from over.
Sue Leslie, Ontario Horse Racing Industry Association (OHRIA) president, is unsure who will officially be at the table when negotiations continue, but when the time is appropriate for OHRIA to be involved, they will be there. The government remains in control of how this is moving forward, said Leslie, calling the next phase of negotiations with the racetracks “very complicated and a tricky process to say the least.”
The Liberal government has asked the panel members, former Cabinet Ministers John Snobelin, John Wilkinson and Elmer Buchanan, to negotiate on behalf of the government until March 2013.
“The panel has tremendous credibility,” said Mark Cripps, spokesman for Agriculture Minister Ted McMeekin, indicating that the three panel members will continue to work with the horse racing industry and the OLG on behalf of the government as they negotiate lease agreements with the tracks.
Calling the transition plan “excellent” but indicating it still needed to be “tweaked”, Cripps acknowledged the importance of letting the experts “handle this and get it right.”
The next month will be critical as negotiations between the tracks and the OLG determine which tracks are in and which tracks are out. Race dates need to be set by November 30 for 2013. A minimum of six tracks are required by the new model; “the maximum number depends on the number of tracks interested in participating and the distribution of Standardbred B and C races.”
The panel report states that all purses will come from wagering under the proposed new program, making the horse racing industry more customer-driven. As a result the total purse industry-wide will decline 45 per cent, to $133.2 million and the total number of race days will fall 48 per cent, to 800.
“We’ve identified 800 race dates,” said Cripps, about half of the current total, indicating that number may go up depending on negotiations with the tracks. Substantial purses will be maintained, which the panel believes is necessary to compete with other jurisdictions.
As Cripps explained, there was no intention to remove the slot machines from the tracks in March 2013, the deadline for the end of the current Slots at Racetracks program. The machines may remain but the tracks will need to bid on race dates, providing races with full fields to provide a better product for consumers, an objective that is in line with the recommendation in the final report that the horse racing industry needs to be consumer driven.
The new Sustainable Horse Racing Model will also support a healthy race horse breeding sector through the Horse Improvement Program (HIP), and suggests splitting the Ontario Racing Commission (ORC) into distinct regulatory and administrative divisions, leaving the ORC with a purely regulatory role.
The report also suggests that the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs should become responsible for both the oversight of the industry through the ORC and the ongoing monitoring of the new racing model to ensure the public interest is protected.
In addition, new gaming products should be permitted to generate revenue for the tracks. The panel also suggests public funding to assist in the development of lifecycle plans for retired racehorses.
So far the plan isn’t talking dollars but it is making sense. “The panel recommends an investment of new public funds over three years to build a sustainable horse racing industry on a foundation of sound public policy,” states the report, which withheld “particularly sensitive financial information” that includes the amount of funding that has already been secured for the transition period. The panel advised that such information should be withheld until such time as negotiations between the government and the industry have concluded.
As the panel report states, “Ontario’s horse racing industry is at a crossroads. A sustainable future is possible, but only if the government takes action now.”
The full Transition Panel final report is available at http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/about/transition/finalreport10232012.htm
©2012 K. Dallimore. All Rights Reserved.