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Jack Darling's Blog


It's time to take the gloves off

Published: October 31, 2012 5:03 pm ET

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I found the OMAFRA panel report both disappointing and offensive. Most of us have accepted the fact that we do have problems at certain tracks and that our industry is going to be downsized but we in the racing business as in any business need to know that we have a fighting chance to prosper.

I didn't like the tone of this report. Instead of an independent, open minded panel working with our industry to develop ways to save and even improve the horse racing business, they sounded like unfriendly government representatives dictating to us.

This panel lost credibility with me when they made this statement: "The new model will make the industry more customer-driven by basing all purse money on the industry's share of pari-mutuel wagering." It seems that this panel has very little concern for those of us trying to make a living in racing.

First of all we - the owners, trainers, drivers, grooms etc. - have very little control over the handle. We can put out a good product but the track operators have control over the handle and need incentive to build the handle. Secondly, as they have admitted, horse racing cannot survive on pari-mutuel wagering alone now that the slots have been allowed to cannibalize our business. The Conservative government was quite aware of this when the SARP deal was put in place 12 years ago and compensated the racing industry accordingly.

Now that this government has insisted on scrapping the SARP deal, we were looking forward to this new model that the panel was to propose. The help that we need IS in this report if it is acted upon. A horse racing lottery, all sports betting and the new electronic horse racing machines that can compete with the slots can be our saviour. Of course, we need a percentage of these for purses. Give the tracks these new tools along with an improved racing model and we can all do well, horsepeople, tracks and government. I did find it strange that this panel saw fit to mention that if these electronic racing machines became too successful, the government should come in and take a bigger cut. It appears they don't want the people trying to make a living in this business doing too well.

The most surprising part of this report is that the panel didn't recommend that the government fund the OSS program at the same level as it is now. After taking $340 million a year out of our industry the government could easily provide the funding to support the OSS program at its current level and that would save the breeding industry as well as a substantial part of the racing industry.

I don't know where we go from here. I'm sure there will be will be a lot of discussion within the industry in the next few weeks. We need more support from this Liberal government than this report is suggesting. If they don't support us we need to do what we can to survive until a friendlier government is elected and the sooner the better. It's time to take the gloves off.

This report falls short of what we need in harness racing but it is a starting point and there are some good ideas in it that OHRIA has to pursue vigorously. The tracks are starting to negotiate with OLG regarding the slots at their tracks. This is the wild card for us right now because we don't know what is going to happen there. I call on OHRIA to keep us informed about their stance on this report and to report to us about any new developments as soon as possible. Many of us are contemplating career and life changing decisions and need to be informed.

On Tuesday, October 30, the long-anticipated OMAFRA Panel Report on the transition of the Ontario horse-racing industry from the slots-at-racetracks program was released to the horse-racing industry. To view and comment on the report, click the following link: OMAFRA Report Released.

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