Ontario Horse Racing's Race to the Finish - 5 Days to Post
Tuesday, 26 March 2013 14:35

5 days to the end of the Slots at Racetrack Program in OntarioI have been crazy involved in events for the past three-consecutive weeks, and have been following as best as I can the final days of the Slots-at-Racetracks Program and the negotiations of transition funding of the tracks involved mostly on tweets.  Lots of people have been messaging and emailing to understand just where everything stands, so, while I had a moment, I have punched out a summary.

As a preface though, at the London Farm Show, All Equine Show at Western Fair and Ontario Finals Rodeo in Ancaster I saw many, many, many Horse Racers in attendance.  Many of those I've tweeted with over the past year, and many proudly wearing WFD, Fort Erie, Mohawk and Flamboro garments that I saw.  Like most events, I included a racing platform into my announcing components, but it was a sombre moment that many of these people appeared to be in attendance supporting initiatives that have been supporting them in their past year's plight.  Since I first spoke out on the Racing Industry's Plight, my message has been: "it affects us all".  I was honoured to "meet" many of these people over the past month for the first-time face to face.  And today, we still stand beside them in hope and fight.

Today, March 26th, news comes in on the Ontario Horse Racing Industry: 3 more tracks will receive Transitional Funding: Georgian, Flamboro & Fort Erie now join Woodbine, Mohawk, Western Fair, Clinton, Hanover and Grand River Raceway.

That's 9 of the 17 Tracks in place 13 months ago with Transitional Funding, and 8 of the 17 with OLG Lease Agreements and Transitional Funding. The final-final deadline is in 5 days (March 31).

To really work, each track needs an OLG Lease Agreement and Transitional Funding.  Western Fair and Kawartha Downs were the first to announce OLG Agreements in December, but Western Fair got Transition Funding, Kawartha didn't, and closed doors on Racing.  

The OLG removed slots from Fort Erie, Sarnia and Windsor last March; now Windsor racetrack is closed, Fort Erie is going to try working with just Transitional Funding.  Sarnia is waiting on Transitional Funding and like Fort Erie, will try and make it go without the Slot Lease Agreement.

Right now: Windsor and Kawartha are the only ones for sure with racing terminated.  A new group is trying to start a new "track" in Leamington using the in escrow funds from Windsor, plus Transition Funding... but this one doesn't have the two-part package in play (OLG Lease, Transition Funding), just partial past horsemen money and Transitional Funding.

With 5 days remaining, word is waiting on the fate of:

Sarnia, Ajax, Dresden, Rideau Carleton, Sudbury, Woodstock (and Leamington).

The industry is in a holding pattern because race dates can't be set until it is known how many tracks are in play and how many players there will be.  

The fine line: The negotiation by the Government for Transitional Funding is divide and conquer negotiations.  They solidified their deal with Woodbine-Mohawk (WEG) first, the largest consortium, and they have been contracted to confidentiality.  Then they have gone to each other interested party to "negotiate", but the conversations have been parlayed as "we'll give you this much. Take it or leave it".  So, the tracks have no idea if their deal is as good as it can be, and have really no option but to take it or close the doors.  Added pressure is compounded by the March 31st deadline when the previous Slots at Racetrack Program expires.  So, though the Government has been diligent, it's more power-pressure to ink a deal or push out.

Hindsight: Tracks should have unionized in some fashion and group negotiated.  They hold all the cards (the venue for slots, the commodity of racing), and would have negotiated a stronger deal for all of the players combined, instead of looking after themselves… and watching their neighbours reel.

The reality: The transition funding is just a 2-year fix until a new plan is created through the order of the Premier-Designate of Ontario to the Ontario Lottery Gaming Corporation and the Industry.  Though there is money, hope and some racing in the near future, Woodbine-Mohawk's secret deal resulted in more than 100 lay-offs, or 25% of workforce.  Western Fair cut more than 20 positions, a similar 25-30% of employees.  The Breeding of Horses has been scaled and impaired, and even though races will be less in number, the 5-year breeding cycle of racehorses is now impaired for 3-5 years from now… after the next "fix" should be in.

The 60,000 Jobs Ontario Horse Racing Provides are already being decimated.

The new hope: First, the Ontario NDP and PC Party of Ontario are jointly bringing forth a motion for the extension of the Slots at Racetracks Program beyond the March 31, 2013 deadline and for referendums to be held before new casinos are built in Ontario, thus halting the OLG Modernization until a better plan comes forward.  

Secondly, the Premier-Designate has directed the OLG to include Horse Racing as a partner in their Modernization.

Thirdly, the PC Party of Ontario has a plan that they would like to see Race Tracks have at least the opportunity to purchase the Slots, and have the Government and Industry work together on a stronger partnership for all parties, as opposed to the rampid OLG Modernization Program of a Casino for every Taxpayor: http://ontariopc.uberflip.com/i/115212

My summary to many is… the Provincial Government Leaders and Opposition Members are now trying to rein in the rogue crown corporation, the OLG, that started this slippery slope… and since this time last year Billions of Dollars of Damage has been done, and Billions more will transpire regardless of how the short-term solution (Slots Lease, Transition Funding) comes together, or the next stage of repair is implemented.

5 days remain.  I worked in London directly with two of those let go last week on and off for months prior.  I have come to know many breeders, trainers, owners, track management types, drivers, jockeys… people from the farm to the backstretch to the upper offices over this past year.  These are real people, these are real animals; and many of them are our friends, neighbours and family.  I have contributed as much as I could by correlating this plight to the Equine Industry and Ontario Taxpayer in ways that are perceived that "this affects all of us".

The political process is moving; the negotiations are moving.  With 5 days remaining, really all we can do is pray for our friends.  The Racing Industry is based on Hope.  And with 5 days left, almost 50% of its fate… is relying on your prayer.

9 of 17 is no reason to celebrate.  50% of a race card is no reason to celebrate.  Layoffs at the leading organizations of 30% is no reason to celebrate.  While we pray, lets see less pictures of politicians with horses and more press releases of deals, plans and visions.

360 Days for 50% of what once was saved with a short term fix.  5 Days to save the remaining 50%.  That's the unfair race that the Ontario Liberal Government and Ontario Lottery Gaming Corporation put #ontariohorseracing in… and that makes the odds over 99-1 today for many.  

Hold your bets and your breath. 

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