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Robert Burgess, Letter to Kathleen Wynne, Dec. 20, 2013

Published: December 20, 2013 4:27 pm ET

Last Comment: December 24, 2013 2:48 pm ET | 15 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

December 20, 2013
Kathleen Wynne
Minister of Agriculture and Food
Office of the Minister
77 Grenville Street, 11th Floor
Toronto, ON M7A 183

Dear Ms. Wynne:

Since I have been on vacation I must apologize for not having responded to the matters raised in your personal letter to me of December 3, 2013 more promptly.

The up-tempo response and tone of your December letter together with your pleasant visits with standardbred horsemen and breeders throughout rural Ontario would appear to demonstrate your very genuine enthusiasm for horseracing.

Furthermore, you seem to have a strong feeling that you and your staff and the members of your Panel are making the best out of this very tragic situation (created entirely by your Liberal Party predecessors Messrs. Duncan, Godfrey and Tanenbaum) that is now being faced by Ontario's standardbred horsemen. My impression that you as Premier feel that "all is well" in Ontario horseracing, seems to be consistently revealed to us in your various public speeches and comments.

Unfortunately, your impression that "all is well" is absolutely incorrect!

Part of the problem is that your Panel members did not have any prior expertise or understanding of the North American horseracing business to rely upon when they were appointed as "experts" by Mr. McGuinty. Trying to govern without this essential background (normally traditional in Government - appointed committees of this nature) the current Panel members have tragically failed in all their efforts to manage and modernize the Ontario horseracing industry. Both the Ontario racing and breeding industries now face an extreme financial crisis which was absolutely avoidable without the intervention of your Panel.

Your Panel, without even a minimal knowledge of the task ahead of them when they were appointed, did not choose to directly involve world recognized experts in the horseracing and gambling industries who reside in Ontario like Dr. Stanley Sadinsky (who co-authored the previous major report on horseracing for the Liberal Party) or Dr. J. Glen Brown, former manager of Armstrong Farm in Brampton, by far the largest horse farm in Canada and one of the draftsmen of the Ontario Sires Stake program and a colleague of Dr. Sadinsky as a member of the Ontario Racing Commission for many years.

In my two brief meetings with the Panel I must regret to advise that my colleagues and I (also with many years of horse racing experience and trying to be helpful) were accorded very little respect. Our warnings to the Panel were completely unheeded.

Your Panel members fail to understand that horseracing's future in Ontario, as elsewhere in North America, has always been and will continue to be 100% dependent upon having A) adequate racing dates and B) a competitive purse structure. Currently, Ontario standardbred racing offers neither A) or B) and is slipping fast into history without anything positive having happened here in almost two years. No announcements with the OLG have been made. We are running out of time. We did nothing to deserve this fate.

Ontario standardbred purses have fallen from $160 million in 2012 (pre-cancellation of SARP) to $90 million in 2013 to a projected $65 million in 2014! We obviously cannot compete with our American competitors at these levels.

Five year "partnerships" blue skied by the Ontario Government, but without a proper purse component, have no meaning or relevance to anyone!

When you persistently speak of your Government's contributions to horseracing's revenues you seem to insist on adding together ancient tax breaks made to the betting public to rental payments made to racetrack operators (that may offer races on a sporadic and infrequent basis or may not race at all). This double counting and apples plus oranges exercise has nothing to do with a proper calculation of total purses to be offered in Ontario. The real and accurate number for 2014 is $65 million down from $160 million and that number is obviously not acceptable.

By generously providing its racetracks as the original sites for the slot machine bonanza Ontario's horsemen, breeders and tradespeople have now, with the cancellation of SARP, been cheated out of their rightful interest in their original partnership with Government and the OLG. This financial involvement by horsemen and breeders must be restored.

Jobs in racing are totally dependent only upon racing dates and purses. On the standardbred side over 50% of the jobs are already gone and immense financial and personal pain is being suffered at Christmas time by those who are most vulnerable.

The experiment by your predecessors in the Liberal Party's hierarchy to fix what was not broken by cancelling the SARP program clearly ranks among their many previous bad decisions as perhaps their most vindictive. You alone now have the opportunity to redress this wrong.

Furthermore, the cancellation of SARP has had an equally devastating effect on the Ontario Treasury. When SARP was cancelled some tracks like Windsor were closed permanently and most others lost days and reputation. All synergies developed between racing and slots evaporated and many customers regretted the loss of variety and choice in betting opportunities.

I am therefore eagerly awaiting the 2012-2013 Ontario Lottery Corporation Annual Report. Rumours persist that the direct annual revenue loss to the Ontario Government caused entirely by the cancellation of the SARP will exceed two hundred million dollars for 2013! Surely you should try to address this completely unnecessary revenue loss to Treasury by reintegrating a vibrant horse racing product with your slot operations.

I am also eagerly awaiting the Auditor General's report on racing, as are Ontario voters and Ontario's horsemen and breeders.

Three conclusions are inescapable:

1. By not insisting upon the normal 10% dedication for purses, as advocated so strongly by Dr. Sadinsky in his report to your Liberal Government, the Panel completely lost credibility with horsemen and breeders;

2. You have not created a financial structure for racetracks under which they are compensated for hosting racing in a modern environment. As it stands now racetracks have no interest or incentive in conducting races. Using Georgian Downs, the beautiful modern track as an example, they have only agreed to race a mere 25 days in 2014 while they await further developments from the OLG! This is patently ridiculous; and

3. The Conservative Party of Ontario and the New Democrat Party both voted unconditionally and unanimously at Queen's Park to restore the Slots At Racetracks Program. Why have you and your Party continued to deny the will of the people on this fundamental and important issue?

I would welcome an opportunity to discuss these matters with you and your advisors.

Yours very truly,
Robert B. Burgess, Q.C.

The views presented in Trot Blogs are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Standardbred Canada.

December 24, 2013 - 2:48 pmMr. Burgess is the best thing

brad remsik SAID...

Mr. Burgess is the best thing for this industry.My hat is off to you SIR! You spend numerous hours wording your letters to perfection and yet direct to the point. A spade is a spade no matter what. It would be only fitting for you to allow each and every one of us to submit the same letter to Ms. Wynne on the horsepeoples behalf.Maybe if she got this letter a couple thousand times she would really understand the problem and address it the way it should be addressed. Just need your okay to copy and submit it to her. Keep up the excellent work you are doing.

December 23, 2013 - 11:36 pmMr Yamakva, While I agree

Mr Yamakva,

While I agree with you that Mr Burgess letter wont save the industry, I cannot help wonder why your comments continue to be so protective of what the Liberals have done to our industry. Never in the original agreement when we allowed slot machines into our racetracks to bastardize our wager was there any mention of focusing to race revenue. I am sure if you allowed me to set up an area in your bar to sell another form of alcoholic beverage, you wouldn't be to happy when you see your sales go down and make matters worse, I find a way to have you out of your own building watching me sell drinks and make money from your original patrons. That is the ugly truth of what the Liberals have done to us. I thank and respect any attempts from Mr Burgess and others who sincerely care about our industry.

December 22, 2013 - 3:48 pmWith regard to Ms. Wynne and

With regard to Ms. Wynne and Mr.Buchanan - is the dog wagging the tail or is the tail wagging the dog - wonder if Ms. Wynne knows the answer?

December 21, 2013 - 7:20 pmThis wont save the

Will Yamakva SAID...

This wont save the sport.

nothing in there mentioned included a thing about financial responsibility of the tracks regarding tying purses to handle.
not a thing for the racing fan or gambler.

Until Mr Burgess turns his focus to racing revenue, this is more or the same

December 21, 2013 - 9:47 amExcellent and on point Thank

dan kearns SAID...

Excellent and on point
Thank you Mr. Burgess for being polite yet direct to the Premier stating that the industry is in dire straights and the 5 year plan is inadequate.
Your statements regarding the Panel's lack of knowledge and ability is on target and needs to be hammered on in all discussions with her. She continues to defer to them as the 'experts' which is a farce and I believe her way of stonewalling, I do not believe she is sincere or has the best interest of our industry at heart.
Darryl Kaplan's interview was okay, but lacking in depth and failed to state (the shortcomings) of the panel, and that 65 million vs. 340 million is completely unacceptable to the industry.
I hope she did not come away from that interview believing that we are accepting of her plan, and have surrendered on the return of SARP.
Dan Kearns

December 21, 2013 - 8:52 amI don't think any party will

I don't think any party will reverse the Decision they are all the same. They are all just doing and saying to get your vote. Ronda Markle

December 21, 2013 - 8:22 amGreat letter Bob, one of the

Greg Perry SAID...

Great letter Bob, one of the main factors being that the three panel members are not and never have been experts on our business. They made a plan, and then met with horsemen to discuss it but never listened to any suggestions or concerns. We need people advising the Premier, like you, that have a real knowledge of the situation.

December 21, 2013 - 4:00 amAs always a great response,

jim rigg SAID...

As always a great response, my thanks to you. Well done!

December 20, 2013 - 9:19 pmMr Burgess should be on the

Mr Burgess should be on the panel to save this industry.

December 20, 2013 - 9:08 pmI think that if Ms. Wynne was

Peggy Powell SAID...

I think that if Ms. Wynne was really a honest and concerned Liberal, she would have asked Mr. Burgess to take part in the transitional panel. She is an educated women and she has had this knowledge for a long time. She sounds concerned and understanding of our problems, but , if this were true, she would have done more then follow the Liberals original plan. Dwight Duncan stated that there would be 5 or 6 racetracks and that is what we have. What he forgot to state is that we will all be bankrupt in 5 years. If there is no incentive for the racetracks to hold live racing at there slots parlors or casino there will soon be NO racing. Before all this happened the tracks had to have racing in order to have slots, now, all they need is the slots. There is no way racing will survive without a share of the profits. A 5 year subsidy is not the answer.

December 20, 2013 - 8:58 pmWe should focus our attention

Peter Dennis SAID...

We should focus our attention on encouraging the calling of a new election - vote out the Liberal Party and get the slots back when the NDP or Conservative party form the next government!

December 20, 2013 - 8:24 pmKudos to Mr. Burgess for a

Kudos to Mr. Burgess for a very articulate description of the sad state of horse racing in Ontario and his proposed solutions to solving the crisis. His synopsis that this uncompetitive horse racing program cooked up by the "panel of experts" that is now being shoved down our throats by Buchanan and the Liberal gov't is absolutely correct. One only needs to look at the states of NY, Pa. and Ohio (who copied our program) and see the prosperity and enthusiasm generated from everyone who are involved in the industry including the state treasury boards. It doesn't take rocket science to figure out that by investing $345 million to make $1.2 billion in profit is not good business. Trouble is McGuinty and Duncan never did pass Business 101.

December 20, 2013 - 7:06 pmExcellent letter .. likely a

Randy Young SAID...

Excellent letter .. likely a little too much "truth" for the politicians to handle. Premier Wynne gives the impression of sincerely wanting Ontario's Horse Racing Industry to survive and flourish ... but as long as she is unwilling to assemble a panel of "real' experts to address the problem (a problem created by her own party), then that impression is suspect.

December 20, 2013 - 6:42 pmWe are fortunate to have

Rick Karper SAID...

We are fortunate to have Robert Burgess in our corner. Premier Wynne appears to be an honest and concerned Liberal. Perhaps Mr. Burgess' letters will convince her that standing behind her predecessors' decisions vis-à-vis horse racing were harmful and should be reversed.

December 20, 2013 - 4:58 pmEloquently stated Robert

reg higgs SAID...

Eloquently stated Robert Burgess. Thankyou for your continued effort on behalf of this industry. It is so discouraging that these people reject any iota of knowledgable input to this distressing situation.
Donna and Reg Higgs.

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