Province pledges $100 million more to horse racing industry
Heather Wright, CTV Barrie
Published Monday, March 31, 2014 6:44PM EDT
Ontario's horse racing industry got a $100-million shot in the arm today.
But for the people in a sport that's taken a huge financial hit the past two years, the new money might not make any difference.
Mike Timpano has seen first-hand what's happened to the horse racing industry since the slots at racetracks program was cancelled two years ago: fewer races, smaller purses, and a shrinking industry.
“People are leaving, they're out of the game, or they're heading down to the states,” Timpano says.
The extra $100 million from Queen’s Park brings the total the province is giving to the industry to $500 million over the next five years.
“It may be helpful to the people still in it but what about the people who got destroyed over the past two years?” Timpano says.
Under the old slots-at-race-tracks agreement, horse racers took in about $340 million a year. That money came from their share of slot revenue, all part of a deal with the government that allowed the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation to set up slots at the track. When the government ended that agreement in 2012, the money dried up.
Kent Baker is the director of the Ontario Harness Horse Association and says the industry is about 25 per cent of what it once was.
“A lot of them are getting out. Some of these purses are $2,700 and it's costing you $300 to $400 in gas just to get there and you haven't even cared for the horses,” Baker.
In the first fiscal year after the slots-at-racetracks program was cancelled, slots revenue at racetracks decreased by $120 million, according to the OLG. Horsemen argue races brought more people to the track – and more people means more gambling.
The government has no plans to return to the old agreement, although the Ontario Auditor General is looking in to why the slots-at-racetracks agreement was cancelled – a report due out later this spring.
Race days mean money and at Georgian Downs there were just 25 race days last year.
This year's schedule has not yet been released but many are expecting 40 race days; an improvement, but a far cry from two years ago when there were 103 race days at Georgian Downs.