Expert Panel Says Horse Racing in Ontario Needs Public Support to Survive

Article excerpt

Panel says horse racing needs public support

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TORONTO - An expert panel on Tuesday recommended Ontario let horse racing tracks offer other forms of gambling to offset the loss of $345 million a year in slot machine revenues, including betting on races from the past.

A panel of three former cabinet ministers said racetracks should be allowed to offer a racing-specific lottery, a sports book or a new product called historical horse racing, which involves betting through an electronic terminal on the outcome of past races, which are not identified to the player.

"These new products could potentially generate revenue that could be used to offset the need for direct public funding, enhance live racing in Ontario and return revenue to the treasury," concluded the panel's report.

The report said it would be a mistake to reinstate the slots at racetracks program, which accounted for 64 per cent of the annual income for the province's horse racing sector and more than 60 per cent of purse money.

"The program has provided far more money than was needed to stabilize the industry -- its original purpose -- and has done so without compelling the industry to invest in a better consumer experience," said the panel.

It also said racetracks will need government help to survive, but did not repeat a conclusion in its interim report that $50 million over three years in government transition funds was "insufficient" to get the sector to sustainability.

"Scanning other jurisdictions, the panel could not find a single example of a viable horse racing industry without some form of public support," said the report.

"With purses fully funded from the parimutuel handle, racetracks will require government investment in their operations."

Critics accuse the Liberal government of putting 55,000 jobs in the horse racing sector at risk as it cuts spending to trim a $14.4 billion deficit, but the Ontario Horse Racing and Breeding Association said it views Tuesday's report as an opportunity to start meaningful negotiations directly with the government.

"As our industry continues to crumble around us, OHRIA can't sufficiently state the urgency for these negotiations to commence immediately," said association spokeswoman Sue Leslie in a release. …