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OHHA Responds To OMAFRA Report

Published: November 1, 2012 5:00 pm ET

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On Thursday, November 1, the Ontario Harness Horse Association, the horsemen's association which represents the majority of the province's standardbred horsepeople, issued a release in response to the recommendations and determinations of the OMAFRA Panel's report regarding the transition of the Ontario horse-racing industry from the slots-at-racetracks program.

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 read the various responses from the industry, please click the corresponding links which appear below.

Woodbine Entertainment Group
Western Fair District
Hanover Raceway
OAAS Reacts To OMAFRA Report

The contents of OHHA's release appear below.

OHHA Responds to OMAFRA Panel Report

The Ontario Harness Horse Association (OHHA), which represents the majority of standardbred horsepeople in Ontario, after careful consideration of the final report as prepared by the Horse Racing Industry Transition Panel, would like to share its initial reaction to the publicized content.

Unfortunately, we are not greatly surprised by the recommendations as communicated by the panel. Given the process that has surrounded the government's intentional dismantlement of the harness racing sector the outcome appears to have been predetermined.

To be clear, the decision to kill the Slots-at-Racetracks Program was made before the release of the Drummond report. Mr. Drummond, in his recommendations, noted the program should be reviewed, not eliminated. OHHA has historically supported a review realizing there were issues with the existing arrangements, particularly the minimal reinvestment by some racetracks into the infrastructure in order to enhance the industry.

Misinterpreting the recommendation from the Drummond report, the government announced that SARP was dead, effective March 31, 2013. A multitude of reasons were provided for this decision: it was going to help the fiscal position of the province, it was a 'subsidy' to the industry, the industry was unsustainable, a new model was needed….. We have heard it all and none of the reasoning withstands even the most basic test of scrutiny.

Given the public pressure applied by OHHA and others, the OMAFRA panel was appointed to appease the industry and buy the government time. This week we were presented the final report excluding a segment of financial information. The panel developed a model based on revenue generated from pari-mutuel wagering in 2011. The report clearly demonstrates that the impact will be significant, particularly on the standardbred industry.

While we applaud the recommendations calling for accountability and transparency, obligations we have repeatedly asked and encouraged the ORC to enforce, OHHA will not and cannot accept a report that buries a dagger in the back of its membership.

Investments by our members and members from other organizations have grown the economy. In addition to the SARP program contributing in excess of $14 billion dollars to the provincial treasury since its introduction, direct taxation from the economic activity generated by the racing sector is approaching a quarter of a billion dollars. $1.25 billion dollars per year have been received by the government to provide services for our fellow citizens. Apparently 'a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush' doesn't register with this government.

The panel shows a certain level of naïveté by suggesting that gutting standardbred race dates and purses will keep Ontario competitive with other jurisdictions. Given that our major competitors south of the border are increasing racing opportunities and purses, we will become far less competitive in racing opportunities, purse monies and in the breeding shed. How will the demand for the Ontario standardbred increase under these circumstances? What will be the loss of economic activity and loss of revenue for government under this proposal?

The extreme bias favouring the 'A' thoroughbreds is an affront to the standardbred industry. While we will not engage in a divide and conquer discussion, to recommend that standardbreds lose 54% of race days and over 60% of purse monies, compared to a minimal decline of race days and purses for 'A' thoroughbreds, is a grave injustice by any measure. Yes, we will hear about the tremendous cut to the thoroughbred 'B' tracks and OHHA deeply sympathizes with those who will be affected at Ft. Erie Racetrack.

The fact that government doesn't want a partnership on slot machines but is willing to partner with racetracks on other types of gaming is more than a little confusing. Of course, none of this increased gaming revenue is available to horsepeople, but will be used to offset racetracks operational expenses.

While we thank the panel for its time and effort we feel deeply disheartened. This is a confidence-shaking report, a bad deal for harness racing, and a bad deal for the people of Ontario.

The panel refers to OHRIA as representing the horse racing industry. However, this particular association certainly does not seem to represent the rank and file of the harness racing sector. The latest results of its efforts could not have made this any more evident as reflected in its initial submission to OMAFRA and the ensuing final report presented by the panel.

As we mentioned at the beginning, this was a political process designed to achieve a pre-determined outcome to the benefit of a few and the detriment of many. Ending the SARP was never about the dismal fiscal position of the province; they could have enhanced the program if they wanted to improve the province’s finances.

The only rational response is to reject the report. We must continue to work with all elected officials to move the industry forward in a meaningful manner. As we have since our inception (1961), OHHA will continue to provide open and responsible leadership on behalf of all its members and we welcome and value our members’ continued input.

In an effort to consolidate discussion, post your comments on the following link: OMAFRA Report Released.

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