One of the largest gatherings to date was present in London on Sunday (Nov. 13) for the fourth session organized by Ontario Racing (OR) regarding a proposed long-term funding framework for horse racing in the province.
More than 50 people attended the Sunday session at the Metroland Media Agriplex, with a very engaged crowd discussing the framework with OR Executive Director Rob Cook and representing the Alliance was Western Fair District COO Mike Woods.
Questions and comments from those in attendance mirrored many of the sentiments and concerns put forth by the harness racing industry in the other jurisdictions. Concerns were presented regarding purses; that with increasing costs these purses are insufficient, and that to make it worthwhile to race, some racetracks may have to be closed.
The mayor of Lakeshore, Tom Bain issued concern that his local track in Leamington is one of those on the outside looking in. According to Bain, 2,000 jobs will disappear and there seems to be little to no discussion of a regional focus within this framework. He feels that the horse racing industry doesn't have a voice in this format going forward and they deserve one. Cook noted that OR needs to know about economic impacts and the facts from all stakeholders which is why these consultations are being scheduled to better understand options and alternatives going forward.
More comments came from the audience regarding a voice in this process after the framework is complete. Legal counsel from the Lakeshore group mentioned the newly-formed horse people's alliance and noted that it's growing in numbers. Cook acknowledged those statements and confirmed OR is aware.
The discussion continued on the interim OR board, a board making decisions in which some feel they don't have a voice. Cook stated there will be a full governance review and associations are welcome to express interest in being a part of the finalized board, with those at the session stating that board needs to be finalized as soon as possible.
Further comments came with a sense of frustration, noting that information like the operating costs at Standardbred Alliance racetracks were not publicly released and why that is the case.
Another question came from the aspect of urgency, asking what the rush is for this process. Cook replied that delaying and waiting further hampers bringing certainty to the industry, and confirmed the need to re-engage OLG on creating additional funding.
Many asked what OLG is doing with respect to industry integration, with Cook noting that the industry integration has begun but communication will be forwarded regarding the need for this process to move faster with more cohesion. He noted a committee is looking at products but there are a number of challenges that go along with such a process.
The framework discussion shifts next to Ottawa for a session on Wednesday night at Rideau Carleton Raceway.
This framework, subject to government approval, will be presented to the industry for feedback. If approved, this framework will provide the industry as a whole – from owners, trainers and breeders to racetrack operators – with the certainty they need to make investments in their businesses.
OR’s primary objective, to this point, has been to engage directly with the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. and the government to provide input to the development of a road map to sustainable funding for the industry. Now, OR’s focus will shift towards engagement with the industry as a whole to garner feedback on this proposed framework.
This proposed framework is based on key principles including:
A new racetrack alliance: all Ontario racetracks that conduct live racing will be invited to create a new alliance. It is proposed that Woodbine Entertainment Group (WEG) will serve as the administrator of this new alliance.
Longer-term, predictable funding: Ontario’s horseracing industry can invest in their businesses beyond 2021.
Ongoing accountability and transparency: decision-making based on evidence and agreed upon success indicators.
Industry leadership: racetrack business plans, race dates, purse levels will be aligned across racetracks for a coordinated approach. Ontario Racing will play a key industry leadership role in the future.
Next steps include widespread ‘in person’ conversations with the industry about these principles, across Ontario. Sessions will take place in every region of the province that has horse racing. The following consultation schedule has been updated. (dates subject to change)
Wednesday, November 16 - 5:00 p.m. - 7:00 p.m. - Ottawa (Rideau Carleton Raceway)
Saturday, November 19 - 1:00 p.m. - 3:00 p.m. - Port Perry (Golfer's Dream Golf Club, Scugog)
Tuesday, November 22 - 2:00 p.m. - 4:00 p.m. - Milton (Gambrel Barn, Country Heritage Park)
Ontario Racing encourages all interested parties to submit their feedback about the future of the industry by accessing its online consultation portal here. The portal includes a series of questions and the option to attach a word document, for those who would like to share additional thoughts. The proposed long-term funding framework was outlined in a webinar, hosted on October 19, and can be viewed here.
Ontario Racing will collate feedback from the industry, and this perspective will inform recommendations to government.