Although horse racing is referred to as "the sport of kings," it is not elitist. It is enjoyed by people from all walks of life and a wide variety of cultures around the world. Sadly, here in Ontario, the horse racing industry is facing a grave threat to its very existence. It is not an exaggeration to say that the industry will not survive unless decisive measures are taken immediately. Even the crown jewel of Canadian racing, the Queen's Plate, faces an uncertain future.
This has all come about because the Ontario government has senselessly and arbitrarily decided to end the slots at-racetrack program. It was a senseless and reckless move on the part of the government because the program returns $1.1 billion dollars of yearly revenue to the province with absolutely no government risk or investment. The slots agreement is scheduled to end on March 31, 2013, after which Woodbine will be deprived of half of its revenues. Yes, you read that correctly - 50 per cent of its revenues!
On June 21st, just days before the 153rd running of the historic Queen's Plate, Nick Eaves, president and CEO of the Woodbine Entertainment Group, addressed the seriousness of the crisis. When questioned, Eaves agreed that the 2012 Queen's Plate had a chance to be the last one. He said, "It could be, We hope not." He then added, "It's going to depend on whether we can find an operating model for the first of April (2013) that allows us to continue in business. If we can't, then this is the last Queen's Plate."
It would be a tragedy if horse racing goes bankrupt in Ontario as it did in Quebec. After 137 years of operation, Blue Bonnets Raceway in Montreal closed down in October of 2009. The good news for Quebec racing fans, however, is that the Quebec Jockey Club is attempting to revive the sport in the province. A new racetrack will be opening in Trois-Rivieres (between Montreal and Quebec City.) The refurbished Hippodrome Tros-Rivieres, will host ten races this fall. The next goal is to build a racetrack in the Montreal area within five years.
Here in Ontario, horse racing is facing some sobering realities. The venerable Fort Erie Racetrack will be closing down after this year. What a blow to the citizens of the town of Fort Erie! How devastating to the people who will lose their jobs. We have already lost the Greenwood Racetrack. Woodbine and Mohawk could be next.
Horse racing fans, let your voices be heard! Don't sit back and be passive about this. Don't allow our sport to die in the province of Ontario. Bombard your MPP with emails. Let Finance Minister Dwight Duncan know where you stand. Remind them of some undeniable facts:
* According to an economic study prepared by the Ontario Horse Racing Industry Association (OHRIA) in November of 2011, there are 31, 441 jobs sustained by the horse racing industry in Ontario. When part-time and casual employment are factored in, the industry employs up to 60,000 jobs in this province. The government's actions may result in these dedicated people being deprived of both their livelihood and their participation in the sport they love.
* As Woodbine Sports and Entertainment has pointed out, Ontario's horse racing and breeding industry contributes $4.5 billion to the province's gross domestic product.
To support horse racing in Ontario, click on the link below to go to the Value 4 Money website. It was launched by the Ontario Horse Racing Industry Association and it contains factual information about the OLG Slots at Racetrack Program. It shares specifics about the industry's economic impact and value to Ontario's rural economy and provides concerned citizens with the tools to engage the Government of Ontario by email.