Ontario Horse Racing Industry Needs Our Input - Karen Dallimore
Thursday, 01 August 2013 23:32

John Snobelin flanked by Premier and Minister of Agriculture Kathleen Wynne at a press conference at Grand River Raceway in March 2013. John Snobelin flanked by Premier and Minister of Agriculture Kathleen Wynne at a press conference at Grand River Raceway in March 2013.

What will Ontario horse racing look like in 2018? That’s the question that three former Cabinet Ministers – John Snobelin, Elmer Buchanan and John Wilkinson – are trying to figure out. They’re advisors in the Horse Racing Industry Transition Panel and they have been asked to make a plan.

They want our help.

When the McGuinty government called for the cancellation of the Slots at Racetracks agreement by March of 2013 it threw the racing industry into a tailspin. Under that revenue sharing agreement twenty percent of slots revenue was being returned to the industry - half to the horsemen and half to the tracks - to the tune of $345 million per year. 

Now the industry must try to figure out how to get by with less. According to Snobelin, approximately $220 million has been earmarked for transition support for 2013. This includes $60 million in each of the next three years set aside for government transfer payments, and for 2013, $50 million in pari-mutual tax reduction and $110 million from gaming product commissions.

But what about 2014? What then? In what Snobelin called the ‘Buchanan Proposal’ at a recent facilitated discussion at Picov Downs in Ajax, the total government investment would call for the transfers and tax credits to equal the commissions, matching funds. In other words, if wagering went down, government funding would go down. If wagering went up, government funding would go up.

As Snobelin said, if we don’t turn the industry around, government funding retreats with the industry.

That leaves the challenge at the feet of the industry itself. How do we get full stands, full races and a sustainable livelihood for horsemen? Growth will be based upon expanding the customer base and increasing wagering. Snobelin thinks we have a great product, but what will it take to make it better?

The transition panel must produce their findings as a plan for sustainable horse racing by late September, but Snobelin says the document is needed by early September, before the important yearling sales this fall. The plan would be implemented by April 1, 2014 to quantify the public funding required by the beginning of the next fiscal year.

Our goals are fairly simple, said Snobelin, we want to align the economic interest of all parties and develop a desirable ‘Ontario Racing’ brand.

At this point the framework of the panel’s “Ontario Live Racing” proposal calls for the Ontario Racing Commission to maintain a purely regulatory role, with sports governance divided into three divisions at the track level: ‘Standardbred Live’, ‘Thoroughbred Live’, and ‘Quarter Horse Live’. Each division would involve a track alliance, a horsepersons’ group and a breed association. As Snobelin pointed out, the client base is often very different and each breed would need to govern themselves.

When it comes to the ethics of racing, Snobelin admits that the government is not equipped to address issues of equine welfare and life cycle plans for horses, and that such issues are best looked after by horsemen themselves.

But this is only the outline of a plan and that’s where the public consultation comes in. The open discussion at Picov Downs attracted 140 participants in person and on conference call. The meeting was broken out into seven table discussions covering wagering, grassroots racing, revenue, breeding, funds distribution, governance, and measures of success. The Transition Panel has posted questions for each discussion topic that can be found at www.ontario.ca/horseracingtransition, along with the draft plan that was revised in May, and they encourage input from everyone.

For example, the breeding sector was the first casualty of the cancellation of the Slots at Racetracks program. While $30 million in funding has been marked for continuation of the current Horse Improvement Program (HIP), the panel wants public input to better understand what the indicators of success will be for that program? Will it be the number of foals, race results, or yearling sales results that will show the program is working? What affects yearling prices? Is it available purses? Restricted racing opportunities?  How should funds be distributed within the program? Should non-resident stallions be part of the horse improvement strategy? Why or why not?

As the panel continues to gather public input, Snobelin emphasized that everyone’s ideas will be considered equally as they work towards a plan. Minister of Agriculture, Premier Kathleen Wynne “wants this done,” said Snobelin, “We’ve got to get busy! This is not a report; this is not a study.”

Grand River Raceway Grand River Raceway

It’s more than about the money, said Snobelin, it’s about the customer. They’re your future; they’re who the money’s going to come from. The government will support the industry according to the number of customers you have, so think about how to attract customers and interest in your industry.

The panel can be reached for comment at horseracingtransition@ontario.ca

- Article by: Karen Dallimore horsebackwriter.net