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Anthony MacDonald's Blog


Our future or a pipe dream?

Published: July 22, 2013 10:26 am ET

Last Comment: July 24, 2013 10:17 am ET | 13 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

I have spent the last two weeks attending open panel meetings at Western Fair and Woodbine.

I also had the pleasure of going to a panel meeting in Guelph with some long time horse racing gamblers, one who appeared to be a statistical genius and another who used to work for the Canadian pari-mutuel agency.

This was an eye-opening experience to say the least.
I listened to why they thought our gaming dollars, the lifeblood of our industry's future, had been driven away. I heard stories about poor charting, poor customer service, underground gaming and most of all, total lack of any transparency and accountability to our gamblers, for over a decade.

I then read the letter by Bob Burgess that was available on Standardbred Canada last week and scratched my head. Is he right? Have we been duped?

Duped may be an understatement. More like pillaged.
But unlike returning to the spot at the supermarket where your car "was", what recourse do we have?

Over the last year the individuals involved directly or indirectly in some aspect of the horse racing industry have voiced their opinion.

It's led me to ask... Do we need SARP? Was it a crutch? Can we do better? Can we survive without it?

Most importantly, do we really think we will have enough revenue to survive and then grow or is this a "panel pipe dream"?
Can this draft be close to what will become a reality in our foreseeable future?

We are being forced to go through a monumental change. We are being forced to look at the information as presented and work with our "new" partners. These are the same partners who left us for dead a year ago. Joining up for another go-around is a tough sell, but quite frankly the alternatives are few and far between.

We all have had a lot to digest.

I want to believe this will work.
With talk of possible lottery revenues at all the meetings last week and single bet wagering knocking at the Senate's door, can we level off and even start to dig ourselves out of this hole? I have to believe so.

I don't wish to gamble mine or my family's future fighting a fight we should have fought over a year ago. Therefore, I choose to work with this panel and try to mould our futures and realign all parts of our industry.

Here are some of the more popular questions and topics from last week's open meetings. We all have feelings on these topics, I included some of mine.

1) how do we fix our breeding industry?
(I agree with Mr Burgess, irreparable harm has been done.)
Our industry is a shell of what it was and until some sort of confidence is restored in some form, we aren't going to see investment in the future.

2) what new wagering options do we think we will have?
Both meetings I attended said they need a guaranteed general public lottery with the OLG.
Is this too complex? Maybe not.

3) how do we firewall the ORC from the OLR?
Great question, I'm certain that is a problem that is far from being fixed.

4) the implementation of the OLR itself. How does it work, and most importantly who will the board of directors be and why do they need to be "government appointed" only?
This is not an appropriate way to start a new partnership.

I would like to see implementation of a universal race office immediately. Change our racing to the strongest it can be. Let's start there.

I have a meeting with the panel next week. I am asking about the time frame of the "OLR". What it may look like and when can we begin to some of the changes?

If you have any questions you would like asked or concerns voiced, feel free to comment here on SC, call or text me at 1-519-400-4263 or you can message me on facebook, or on twitter: @horseracingamac or @amacdonaldpc

Thanks again,

July 24, 2013 - 10:17 amMr MacDonald states "we are

Ted Decker SAID...

Mr MacDonald states "we are being forced into change". Once again sounds like the horse industry as a whole believes they have no part in what has happened to Ontario racing. Blame everyone but the industry itself.

July 23, 2013 - 11:15 pmLawsuits, meetings,

Lawsuits, meetings, politicians, horsemen reps. - we are missing the boat here. Bob and Will are talking about things we can do immediately that cost relatively very little and would have an immediate impact(fan issues). Lawyers, accountants and prof. marketing reps. cost lots of money, customer service reps. and tellers not so much. 20$ times 55 000 jobs is 1.1 million - spend it wisely.
The number one issue that, if solved, could lead to us becoming self-sufficient is to replace the archaic dinosaur that is pari-mutuel wagering (gambling issue). Heavy hitters want fixed odds. We need a FEDERAL gov't panel to lobby for this change.

July 23, 2013 - 10:07 pmHas anyone actually read the

Has anyone actually read the contract the horsemen signed with their sarp partner? Before anyone starts throwing their hard earned money away pursuing a lawsuit they'd best 'spend' some time doing a little research. I haven't had the opportunity to read the contract but my understanding is that there was an escape clause. Unless there is some grounds that would negate the escape clause this is not only futile endeavor but a fools pursuit. Foolish assumptions will not impress any judge. When you sign a contract you cannot plead ignorance of the wording in the contract you are bound by the wording. Where were the horsemen's lawyers when this contract was signed? Who were these lawyers? The only grounds I could think that might be possible to negate is if the horsemen's representatives (lawyers) were involved in some sort of collusion (and this needs to be provable) with the other party. I doubt this is very likely so in effect you are bound by the contract you signed on for. Personally I find it inconceivable that so many bought into this deal in the first place. I thought it was obvious where we were being led right from the get go and said so at the time and was soundly rebuked for doing so. Short term gain for long term pain! Just like sucking up to the P.C. party is an obvious losing battle today. All political parties answer to the same master and if you are not aware of that then there is no helping you. In the end you will find this to be true too! A couple of folk here are trying to tell you that you need to fix this mess yourselves but you don't want to listen instead you whine and pine and blame the Liberals. You helped facilitate your own demise and you continue to do so. And for those that are condemning our product (horses) there is nothing wrong with our product it is how we are presenting it.. it is how we are presenting ourselves... POORLY!! We need to be more fan friendly(key word) it is as simple as that. We need to entice new people into the game it won't happen by giving them something they don't want, we need to give them something they want. Sitting idle for 20 odd minutes between races murders me, how about you? I'm a horseman and I absolutely hate it and actually don't watch many races because of this very factor. It bores me to death. Okay, there is one thing we should be able to fix quite easily yet we haven't and I am not the first person to raise this issue. We fix things and live or we don't and we die it is as simple as that. Whipping horses now don't get me started on that one. Who in there right mind want's to sit there and endure that barbarity? Anyway enough for now.

July 23, 2013 - 10:34 amMr Colbert.... I could not

Will Yamakva SAID...

Mr Colbert....

I could not agree with you more about your post. I have said this from the get go that this is not really a fan friendly experience despite what the horseman might think.

I took my gf and 3 of her friends on a 5 day "sports weekend" which started with Justin Timberlake and Jay Z show on wednesday night. I asked them to be 100% honest about all the experiences and let me know what they thought of each. All three are totally not sports people and were open minded about the experiences. We went to Woodbine for the runners Friday afternoon, the jays lose friday night, Toronto FC tie on Saturday, and we drove home and went to Rideau for "Mexico Night", and ending the night at Lac Lemay casino. The rules were simple, to just go and soak in the atmosphere and enjoy without asking many questions to me specifically about the events. I told them they were not permitted to go into the slots at the track as that might alter the experience.

All the ladies said the same thing. The harness was easily the ... 1) most confusing part of the weekend 2) Boring part of the weekend 3) part of the weekend that felt the least professional 4)one they would definitely never return to again.

I asked what they did not like about the harness experience. Like I said Mr MacDonald, (and I have GREAT respect for what you do), but it is clear horseman should not be leading the change here. I continually hear about the tinkering you want to do to the races this and that...... THE RACING IS FINE. despite being slower horses, these people did not care about the "class" of the horses. The final time did not matter to them. They enjoyed the race itself.

Here were the complaints they gave... feel free to blame who you like on what you like but as horseman with something to gain or lose from it, saying "its the track's responsibility" is lame, because you profit or lose based on what the track does. If your livelihood depends on it, you might want to get yourselves involved and fix this WITH the track rather than blaming them. Rather than wait for them to fix it.... demand the changes at the track like many are trying to do with the government.

1) Total lack of explanation of what is going on.

Remembering that I did not give hints or advice, and left them to fend for themselves..... they could not figure out why the horses were going the wrong direction sometimes, why some horses had the same numbers on them, what all the numbers on the toteboard meant, why horses had to move out of the way when going off stride, what the payouts meant. They asked a couple of people, and the explanations they gave were far too confusing for someone that has no clue what is going on. I understood, but realized this was pointless to my group of 3 ladies and 1 fella. Was there anyone to help? No. Was there anything on the monitors that helped or could explain or give advice? No.

2) The average age was at least 50......Unlike the other events we went to, they could see themselves getting into it based on the people around them. If they learned the sport, it would be enjoyable.

3) Unlike Woodbine.... there was zero noise when the horses came down the stretch. The crowd was so mellow (namely because it was not more than 300 people outside at race end) that it totally did not feel like the experience of the crowd going nuts at Wdb. I would guess this is largely in part to the age of the average patron.

4) They had no faces to look at.....We stood on the rail, right by the winner's circle. There was ZERO connection between any horseman and the kids around, the fans, nothing. Not just at the end of the race.... but during warm up. Zero.

How hard would it have been for the winning driver to take off the goggles and go give them to some kid or to sign a few dozen programs before hopping back in the bike, or to stand so they face the fans so people can snap their own pics of the winner. Look at WDB, the winner circle.... the jocks have to walk thru the fans to get back to the jock's room. They high fived the kids, gave them goggles, chatted, giggled and what not.

These are SMALL things that would ensure that the next generation goes and attends the races. As it stands now, there is little reason for someone 30 and under to attend the races. While you might think the government is killing the sport.... take a look at what I have just pointed out. Not one of them things had to do with government.

the sport needs to realize.... this isnt 1980 any more. You need to more than just show up and race. The government pulled the plug, because as a "partner".... harness racing has not kept up its end on this. If you take a look STRICTLY at the handles of tracks not named Georgian, WEG, or Grand River or RCR, you will see that so little of Ontario cares about harness, that they are going to think you are looking for handouts. I do not blame them really.

All your suggestions, are great..................... for horseman.

July 23, 2013 - 9:33 amI agree with Mr. Burgess and

jim rigg SAID...

I agree with Mr. Burgess and I say we must act now!! Although it may be an uphill legal battle, I feel it is necessary to take our fight to the courts and if we can ask Mr. Burgess to set up a special account whereby we all can contribute a minimum of $20. This decision made by the McGuinty regime was morally wrong and blatantly done without proper consultation with the Horse Industry. If you want to beg for scraps then thats what we'll get. I say lets FIGHT!!

July 22, 2013 - 9:05 pmI have been reading and

Bob Colbert SAID...

I have been reading and listening to all the back and forth talking over the last couple years both here in the US ( New Jersey) and in Canada. While this isn't a simple problem to fix, there are some things that can be done to start. I was at Harrah's Philadelphia (5/8th track) over the weekend. I saw promise and I saw some of the PR issues we face. I'll start with the positive. Because of the way the track is laid out you can stand on the rail and almost touch the horses. I was down on the rail watching the horses score and there was a couple with two small children. One of the horses came along the rail the driver stopped in front of the couple. The horses didn't have a head pole so he turned and looked right at the kids. The driver said say hello and said the horses name. You would have thought it was Christmas day. the kids were so excited and one child said look "hes looking at me" and they both said hi to the horse. The horse was there maybe 10 seconds. That's a memory that these kids will remember, tell their friends about and who knows there might be some new fans.

Now the bad side. I was inside watching a replay when I saw a woman standing at a self betting machine. she was confused and lost on what to do. I looked around and saw a security guard talking to the bartender and saw no one else. No customer service rep, no sign of an employee to help this woman. How much money and more importantly how many get discouraged because of lack of help and lack of simple customer service. Its not just there, just about ever racetrack I've been to over last 10 years is that way. If you go to a big box store they have someone welcoming you and have people around to help. Is it really too much for racetracks to follow that lead? In my line of work, if the customer has a bad experience they are not coming back. We need to remember that

July 22, 2013 - 6:57 pmThere are many ways to

Greg Perry SAID...

There are many ways to improve the way we present our product , improve handle,& market our sport. None of these are possible with slot machines at our racetracks taking the betting dollars away from us. If we can't share in the gaming dollars from the tracks we have no hope. I venture to say that the majority of tracks in Ontario, except WEG, would gladly trade horseracing for more gaming given the chance. They are not fighting to keep racing, they are fighting to stay alive and know that won't happen with racing alone. If we keep going along with this panel's vague outline of a plan we are sunk. They have offered no specifics about how to increase anything except the governments pockets.

July 22, 2013 - 3:20 pmDue to family obligations it

Dave Nicol SAID...

Due to family obligations it is difficult for me to attend the ongoing meetings, however as an individual I do care. Am I frustrated with the results so far? Absolutely! In this industry I always was an optimist who like most of us am now feeling more pessimistic about what I see happening to us all. What transpired in Quebec a few years ago is now happening to a once world class industry in Ontario. Will it be as bad here? Probably worse as we have farther to fall, and so far we*re in free fall! Attended Grand River last week to watch my horse race and talk to many friends and associates. Of course the topic involved what do we think? Have 2 horses left so do I sell these 2 at a loss or buy 2 more? This friend has a problem with her choices, optimism or pessimism? See above! Breeders operating next to another, entire staff terminated, 2 out of 3 broodmares disposed of and most of the rest not rebred! An official I*ve known a long time, will I have a job next year? Will I as an individual buy another yearling this year? Probably not! Half the races with half the purses! I used to buy as many as 5 winning pictures, now I don*t buy any! Things, if not necessary have to be reduced or stopped! Do I have faith in this panel to change anything for the better? Optimistic, HARDLY, but I*ve been wrong before! To have any hope of changing this scenario any person holding office must be industry participants, not political appointments or failure is assured! Someone like Mr. Burgess as chairman, now that would be a positive start! I don*t want to even talk about the huge unemployment happening as in my world everybody works if they*re able to and contribute to a better world for us all. This used to be the Canadian way! Pity.

July 22, 2013 - 3:03 pmYes we need a universal race

Yes we need a universal race office - no we don't need or want any government involvement. It is very obvious they don't know anything about racing. What do they mean by transparent. Are we talking here about what track management has charge of? Horsemen certainly have no say in charting, takeouts, how the ORC hands out fines, suspension, etc. Finally, we need a Commissioner of Racing as do all other sports.

July 22, 2013 - 2:22 pmDear Anthony, Firstly, thank

Dear Anthony,

Firstly, thank you for your blog. The way I see it, there is one common denominator that affects the future of horse racing in Ontario..... that is MONEY.... or rather the lack of it, in order to sustain the industry. This report with it's trumped up numbers, is nothing but a mirage that will lead us into oblivion. Previously, we were receiving approx. $172 million/yr. as our share of the revenue generated from the SARP and now we are relegated to a mere $60 million/yr. for the next 3 yrs. As Mr. Burgess stated, this is an insult but also it`s an attempt to `starve us out of business.` How is it possible to grow the industry thru wagering when the race dates have been cut in half and with only 5 or 6 race tracks operating. As if we are not regulated enough, now the gov`t wants to create another organization (the OLR) with it`s own high priced appointees.... just another useless bureaucracy. As for the breeders and I hate to say this but they are doomed unless they breed their top mares to US based sires and cull the rest because there will be very little demand for Ontario breds. The OSS program will be striped to bare bones minimum and will have a status equivalent to fair racing. Did we need change to the SARP... yes, absolutely. But we did`t need to be pillaged, as you called it, in the process. How do we remedy our situation. I don`t have all the answers but I can tell you this. A class action suit will certainly get the attention of the gov`t. Yes, it may take years to settle but the proceeds from the suit may cushion the financial blow somewhat to horse people. Finally, let me state this. In my humble opinion.... UNLESS THERE IS SOME FORM OF REVENUE SHARING FOR HORSE RACING FROM GAMBLING SOURCES, HORSE RACING CAN NOT AND WILL NOT SURVIVE ON ITS OWN. With the implementation of the slots, we allowed our bettor client base to be cannibalized in favour of other gambling venues and we will NEVER get it back. I rest my case.

July 22, 2013 - 1:57 pmAdd a really good accountant

Lynne Magee SAID...

Add a really good accountant and lawyer with some background in the industry and some marketing geniuses should be included along with some very astute professional gamblers. The fewer number of politicians the better. I agree that a "government appointed" group will be a death sentence.

July 22, 2013 - 12:45 pmMr.MacDonald there is one

john smith SAID...

Mr.MacDonald there is one question I would ask of you.
Would it be at all possible with your help to be able
to arrange an open discussion platform between the panel
and Mr Burgess.
Given the hard work that Mr.Burgess has put forth in
his letter it would seem only fair to let everyone hear
the 2 sides via a media coverage that would remain neutral
and impartial.
It really is time to plug the public at large into this.
It's through this and perhaps other open and truthful
discussions that we can restore and most importantly
revitalize our industry.
I'm only one voice I realize this,but as I look back and
remember some of our areas great horsemen from the past,
some of whom I had both the pleasure and honour to meet,
I can't help but wonder what they would think and say
seeing all of what has happened today.
ThankYou for your time Mr.MacDonald.

July 22, 2013 - 12:32 pmWhat the horse people need is

What the horse people need is someone like Mr. Burgess and a criminal lawyer sitting in on anything the government has to say or do with the horse racing industry.The government will put a closed bridle, (pull the wool over someone's eyes that has little or no experience in dealing with HYPOCRITICAL INDIVIDUALS,plus you have to know how to read between the lines). Have a good day.

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