EASTERN ONTARIO -- Three more Ontario horse racetracks came to an agreement with the provincial government on March 26 to receive transitional funding for the next three years, ending speculation at more tracks whether there would be racing in 2013. The deals came just five days before the Slots at Race Tracks program expired on March 31 at midnight.
Georgian Downs in Barrie, Flamboro Downs in Hamilton and the Fort Erie Race Track all signed deals. The three new deals add to six racetracks that already reached deals or tentative deals. Toronto's Woodbine and Campbellville's Mohawk reached agreements on Jan. 23, 2013, while Western Fair in London, Clinton, Hanover and Elora all have agreements in principle.
The government says they will continue to negotiate with the other racetracks in the province that are interested in transition funding.
"Ontario's horse racing industry and breeding industry are an important part of a healthy economy in Ontario. We will continue to work in consultation with the industry partners for the long-term good of the industry and the province," said Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne.
However, not every track is going the route of a settlement with the government. Things looked bleak for Kawartha Downs after their racing license expired, yet rather than take a transition deal with the province, the racetrack has established itself as a not-for-profit entity, operated by the Peterborough County Federation of Agriculture. The move will ensure racing in 2013, however, the schedule will most likely be reduced as will the purses. Things are not guaranteed yet either as the track still needs its license renewed by the Ontario Racing Commission.
Terms of the transition deals are not being released, yet the speculation among many reports is that it is a considerable cut from what the tracks got with the Slots at Race Tracks program.
With the original program, the tracks received approximately $400-million annually, but numbers surrounding these new agreements are 50 per cent or lower. While the funding has stopped, the province has reached lease agreements in principle with the 14 tracks that have slots on site.
One of the biggest tracks that still does not have a deal in place is Rideau-Carleton in Ottawa. The track holds races all year long and is reporting, on their website, that they will continue to race Thursdays and Fridays in the month of April. Rideau Carleton officially stopped receiving funding from the province on April 1. Speculation is that they are still in talks to reach a transition funding deal. The track employs close to 1,000 people.
Meanwhile, the MPP from Rideau-Carleton's riding, Conservative Lisa McLeod, continues to oppose the government's pull back of funding. The Tories have continued to stress that they would scrap the notion and save the local racetrack, if elected. MacLeod also called in an Ombudsman to prepare a report on the exact impacts the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation's modernization plan will have on rural communities.
Figures from the industry indicate that it employs 50,000-60,000 people in the province. Premier Wynne has already acknowledged that her government is trying to preserve jobs in the industry even if it become smaller in the future.