By Jessica Lovell
The announcement that the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation has reached lease agreements for its slots operations at some racetracks may not be reason for the horse racing industry to celebrate just yet, say two local Progressive Conservative politicians.
“There’s still a great deal of uncertainty within the industry,” Wellington-Halton Hills MPP Ted Arnott said in response to the announcement.
The two-year lease agreements, announced Jan. 23, were reached in principle for slot operations at eight tracks, including Woodbine, Mohawk, Rideau Carleton, Hanover, Woodstock, Dresden, Sudbury Downs and Clinton tracks. In-principle agreements for Western Fair District Raceway and Kawartha Downs Racetrack had been announced in December.
But the two-year time frame “really doesn’t provide the long-term certainty that the industry relies on,” said Arnott.
The racing industry operates on a three-year cycle, because of the time it takes to breed and raise a horse to racing age, he explained.
Arnott also criticized the announcement for its lack of detail.
“There are a lot of details that need to be forthcoming,” he said. “Whether or not these agreements are fair to the tracks, we don’t know.”
Harness-racer Anthony MacDonald, Guelph’s provincial Progressive Conservative candidate, agreed.
“All the announcements that the Liberals make, they’re all very vague,” MacDonald said.MacDonald, who decided to venture into politics over the Liberals’ cancellation of the Slots-At-Racetracks funding agreement, believes that the partnership was flawed from the beginning.
“Nobody actually took the time to realize that these people didn’t care that much about racing,” he said. “They really only cared about the bottom line and the money they were making from the slot parlours.”
Agreements that keep the slots operating at racetracks won’t necessarily have a positive impact on the racing industry, he said. Rather, the racing industry needs to reinvent itself into an industry that can sustain itself.
“Our industry is archaic the way it is now,” Macdonald said. “We need to attract people and gamblers to come to the racetracks” for the horses, not the slots, he said.
If the government and the racing industry decide that a continued partnership would be beneficial, MacDonald believes the slots and the races should be more integrated at the track facilities.
“If people want to look at the races, they shouldn’t need a map to get to them,” said MacDonald, criticizing the way slots and track facilities are currently laid out. He also suggested that there might be other ways that the government could invest wisely in the industry, besides through the slots.
Arnott noted that the government claims to be continuing a breeding incentive program called the Horse Improvement Program. “But at what level of funding?” he asked.
While Arnott called the new lease agreements “a positive first step in the right direction,” he noted that the slots create competition for gambling dollars with the horse-racing industry – an industry that supports the rural economy.
“I’d like to see a thriving horse racing industry in the province of Ontario which maintains its status as a pillar of the rural economy,” said Arnott. “The government needs to continue to partner with the horse racing industry to ensure that this happens.”