In the wake of recent industry consultations with Ontario Racing (OR) on a potential long term funding plan, the General Manager of one of the tracks involved in the Ontario Standardbred Alliance offered his perspective on the current climate facing the harness racing industry in the province.
“At present there is a great deal of uncertainty in the industry regarding the proposed Alliance structure for racetracks with Woodbine Racetrack acting as a service provider to carry out the administration of the business activities and services required by the group,” said Dr. Ted Clarke of Grand River Raceway in Elora. “I have been witness to many constructive actions undertaken by Woodbine (and formerly OJC) that facilitated Elmira Raceway’s emergence from a debt-ridden entity in 1987 into the operation at Grand River Raceway today.”
In January of 1990, Woodbine agreed to the first intertrack of the Greenwood Standardbred signal outside their own system at Mohawk Racetrack when they teamed up for common pool wagering for the customers at Elmira Raceway. This opened the door for similar intertrack activities at many of the province’s ‘B’ tracks and led to an increase in purses at those venues.
Dr. Ted Clarke (R) presents the Ontario Regional Driving Championship trophy to James MacDonald at Grand River Raceway this past June.
Woodbine agreed to the first combination of live and intertrack programs using their signal mixed with the live operation in Elmira. Woodbine also agreed to send their thoroughbred signal to Elmira providing the basis for mixed breed cards. In 1997, they accepted the Elmira live signal to distribute throughout their network, the first time a ‘B’ track had received such an advantage.
When the Slots At Racetracks Initiative saw the necessity for Elmira to move to Elora, Woodbine agreed to that move into what was at that time a shared home market area. Woodbine gave full approval that Grand River could operate as it had in its own home market area.
“During the last 25 years, Woodbine could have overrun the Elmira/Grand River operation many times and it would have had the potential to increase their bottom line,” explained Clarke. “It should come as no surprise that they didn’t. The current Alliance structure builds on the cooperative relationship that has existed for many years and I would expect the proposed province-wide Alliance to do likewise.”
Eight tracks make up the Alliance, including Grand River, Flamboro, Georgian, Hanover, Clinton, Mohawk, Woodbine and The Raceway at Western Fair District. The partnership has been administered by the Woodbine Entertainment Group (WEG) and the unique business model has allowed the tracks involved to realize efficiencies in several areas which have been critical to the overall success of the Alliance in the first three years.
These include a centralized tote service, centralized race office and purse cheque distribution, the handling of simulcast contracts with other racing organizations and ADW platforms, in addition to other back of house services.
The Standardbred Alliance has been able to not only stabilize but grow wagering on its product by offering a consistent wagering platform in more locations. And, by linking all tracks to the HPIBet platform, offer a loyalty program across the province. The remote wagering on the Standardbred Alliance has grown with the integrated approach to scheduling and expanded distribution, especially in the U.S.
“A lot of hard work and co-operation between the Alliance tracks has produced positive results and we believe that customers in Ontario have benefitted. We should strive to continue improving this customer experience and we feel that the stability of a long term funding agreement and a stronger Alliance will be vital to achieving this,” said Clarke.
(with files from Grand River)