OHRIA Plan for Horse Racing

(Published July 31, 2012 in the Ontario Farmer)
The Ontario Horse Racing Industry Association (OHRIA) released a Plan For The Future of the Ontario Horse Racing and Breeding Industry on July 24, 2012. 
It paints a picture of a contracted but viable horse racing industry in Ontario that will be depending upon enough government transition and development funding to see it through the difficult changes that lie ahead. 
Lawyer Stanley Sadinsky, who specializes in Gambling Law and Policy and is a former Chair of the Ontario Racing Commission and the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation, was a key member of the OHRIA task force that penned the Plan that is now in the hands of the OMAFRA Horse Racing Industry Panel for review.
The Plan calls on the government to provide $210 million in funding, made up of $165 million for a new Ontario Development Fund for overnight purses and operating costs, $30 million to expand the current the Horse Industry Program (HIP) that supports horse breeders, and $15 million for industry administration, marketing, and program and product development through OHRIA. 
The Plan demands that, “This funding must be sustainable and not transitional in nature” for two reasons: “An unsupported racing industry cannot compete with the government’s virtual monopoly (on gambling),” and secondly, “decisions to invest in racehorses are based on the stability of the purse structure.”
The Liberal government has so far offered $50 million in transition funding over the next three years after unexpectedly announcing the end of the successful Slots at Racetracks business agreement by March 31, 2013.
Looking ahead, the Plan recognizes that, “The principle challenge will be to grow pari-mutuel wagering so that more industry revenue is derived from this source rather than from government programs.”
According to the Plan, the industry will look very different in the future than it does today. With the province now divided into 29 gaming zones, sixteen of the current 17 racetracks will be eligible to put forth proposals to host a gambling facility for their zone. It is unlikely that a racetrack will survive by offering live racing without deriving revenue from slots and/or other forms of gambling.
As a result, the Plan speculates a smaller industry that will likely be comprised of one thoroughbred track, between five and eight standardbred tracks and one quarter horse track, with seven to 10 surviving of the current 17. It also predicts a resulting 45 percent fewer race dates with 797 under the new model, down from 1,540 in 2012. 
“As for the racetracks that will close and the many individuals who rely of those tracks directly and indirectly for their living, transition funding should be put in place. The existing funding should continue for at least one more racing year while the government replaces existing slot locations with its new facilities.”
“As for those racetracks that survive, an early decision is required with respect to the nature and extent of the Development Fund. Until that decision is made and a new financial arrangement has been put in place with each racetrack, the current level of funding should continue.”
The Plan continues: “A sensible phasing-in process should also accommodate the horses that will no longer be needed as race horses. Both some reduction in breeding numbers and the retirement of horses that are now racing will eventually lead to a stable horse population in the longer term. This should eliminate the threat or the need to cull the horse population.”
While admitting that the Plan is “not the final picture for Ontario,” OHRIA suggests it is a “road map to how, in partnership with government, the industry will chart its own course into the future -- building a strong racing product supported by a breeding industry that produces horses with world-wide appeal.”
In its conclusion, the Plan states, “The government has dealt a severe blow to the horse racing and breeding industry in Ontario and to all those who rely on it for their livelihood. If the government wishes to see the industry survive in the public interest, it must take immediate steps to remedy the harm that has been done.”
A report by the Horse Racing Industry Transition panel is expected in August 2012, that will make recommendations to the Minister of Agriculture Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) about how the government might help the industry adjust to the termination of the Slots at Racetracks Program.
The full 26-page Plan For The Future of the Ontario Horse Racing and Breeding Industry is available at www.value4money.ca. OHRIA welcomes your feedback via email at ohria@ohria.com. 
©2012 K. Dallimore. All Rights Reserved.

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