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Wynne Discusses Five-Year Plan

Published: October 11, 2013 1:34 pm ET

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On Friday, October 11 at Grand River Raceway, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne formally announced the highly anticipated five-year plan for a sustainable horse racing industry in the province. Wynne addressed the media during the presentation and fielded questions regarding the plan and the future of the industry.

Flanked by Horse Racing Transition Panel members John Snobelen, Elmer Buchanan and John Wilkinson, Wynne stated that the new plan will bring transparency to the industry. She also explained how the plan will lay the foundation for Ontario horse racing to thrive going forward. Wynne, who is also the province’s Minister of Agriculture and Food, stressed how a true partnership with the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. is critical for the industry to thrive.

To watch video of the announcement at Grand River, click here.

“Over the past year and a half, the panel has been working to establish the horse racing industry on an accountable and a sustainable footing,” Wynne said. “The fact is that what was in place before (the Slots-at-Racetracks Program) wasn’t sustainable over the long term. Without the work of (Ontario Horse Racing Transition Panel members) John (Snobelen), Elmer (Buchanan) and John (Wilkinson) we would not have been able to put this plan in place for the future.”

Wynne stated that horse racing is part of Ontario’s culture as a province, and that “the jobs that are associated with racing are incredibly important.”

“When I became Premier I made this commitment (to bring forth a sustainable framework for the provincial horse racing industry). I recognize the value of this sector. And I recognize that if it is my responsibility – and it is – to create jobs and grow the economy in every part of Ontario, I think that we have to make sure that we support hard-working people in every region of the province. That is why when I say that we are going to invest in people, and we are going to invest in infrastructure, and that we want to support a dynamic and innovative business climate, that includes horse racing.”

Wynne stated that her government sees the five-year plan as making an investment in provincial horse racing and in Ontario’s economy.

“We are going to help support an industry that has the capacity to plan for the future, so we see this as an investment in the future. This isn’t just a five-year plan that ends and then there is nothing after that. This is an investment in sustainability and the future. I believe that this industry has the capacity to be, and is, dynamic, and it can be one that delivers the product that today’s customers want, and have it provide economic benefits to the communities that house Ontario’s racetracks. I believe that this plan will make that happen.”

As she has stressed before, Wynne stated that a true partnership between the OLG and the Ontario horse racing industry is pivotal.

“We also believe that if we are going to have that sustainable future we have to make some changes. So integrating the horse racing industry with the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation’s gaming modernization plan is one of those changes. That is one of the things that I have been committed to since I came into this office (Premier), that there needs to be that integration of the horse racing and the gaming industry across the province. So that means leveraging the OLG’s business, marketing and responsible gambling expertise to grow the fan base of the horse racing industry, and that only makes sense to me.”

Wynne also reminded those in attendance that it is crucial for Ontario horse racing to be very focused on the customer.

“To ensure a successful future, Ontario’s horse racing industry has to renew its focus on the consumer, enhance wagering and other revenues, and adopt new models of collaboration and partnership. I am really confident that this plan will give all of our tracks the opportunity to plan for future success.”

“I think that together we can work to build on the great traditions of Ontario horse racing and we can attract a new generation of fans to this wonderful sport.”

After her address, Wynne and members of the transitional panel fielded questions from the media. It was during this time when Wynne again stated that racing’s direct partnership with the OLG is very important.

“We are looking at other techniques, other mechanisms, and that is why the integration with the OLG is so important because we need that partnership and we need to look at what the other opportunities are for revenue streams that will allow the horse racing industry to be sustainable, that’s what we need to look at.”

Snobelen stated that the transitional funding for the industry is a crucial base for horse racing to move forward from. He also reiterated that focus on the customer is key.

“This is a foundational money for our industry,” said Snobelen. “The industry, obviously, depends greatly on gaming, on attracting – and continuing to attract – horseplayers to the Ontario product both here in Ontario and around the world. So, we will put a focus on that – we know the industry players are doing that.”

Wynne stated that the now-scrapped Slots-at-Racetracks Program was not transparent, and that a transparent plan is paramount for the industry moving forward.

“What we have done here is have said, ‘look, there was a program in place that was not accountable, that was not sustainable.’ There wasn’t a requirement for the kind of transparent business plan that I think we need from all of the tracks,” said Wynne. “So, what I want is for us to have an industry that is wide open to the public, that people understand how it works, and that is why we needed to re-calibrate. I hope that every track in the province that can work with the industry and develop a business plan can demonstrate how it is going to be sustainable and what the sustainable footing is that (will allow them to) have a sustainable future.”

Wynne stated, “We know that the $345-million that was in the Slots-at-Racetrack Program was not easily accounted for. It wasn’t clear exactly what that money was going for, so we needed to change the program. We needed to re-calibrate the industry, and that is what we are doing. That is why I think having this five-year plan and the recommendation from the panel has been that we review this, that we look at how it is going and we see whether it was working the way we think it can.”

Wynne stressed racing work closely with the OLG again during the question and answer session, stating, “We want the OLG to work hand-in-hand with the horse racing industry so that when we look at gaming at large across the province we have a healthy horse racing industry as part of that.”

Wilkinson then stressed some of the most important elements of the five-year plan.

“I think that the most important thing that we have been able to conclude in our work as a panel is that this new relationship that this industry wants to have with the government, and the government wants to have with the industry, should be based on four overriding principles. Any new arrangement – and this five-year plan includes that – has to be transparent; it has to be accountable; it has to provide a positive rate of return to the taxpayers so that it is an investment and not a subsidy; and it has to be driven by the marketplace… As one of the panelists, we believe that this five-year partnership plan between the industry and the government, based on those four principles, sets the foundation so that this industry will actually be growing into the future and contributing more and more to rural Ontario.”

(Note - In an effort to consolidate comments on topics, if you wish to voice your opinion on the five-year plan, please do so by clicking here.)

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