Productive And Positive Discussion At Ottawa Consultation

Published: November 16, 2016 08:14 pm EST

Ontario Racing (OR) hosted its fifth public consultation session on Wednesday, Nov. 16 at Rideau Carleton Raceway regarding a proposed long-term funding framework for horse racing in the province.

Ontario Racing Executive Director Rob Cook hosted the Ottawa consultation and informed the crowd of approximately 50 attendees about today's announcement that OR will implement a second phase of consultations with the industry after the current round of meetings have been completed. After releasing its preliminary report, phase two will take approximately four weeks.

During Wednesday's session, Woodbine Entertainment Group's Jamie Martin spoke to the Ottawa horse industry and touched on the history of the Racetrack Alliance and also the efficiencies that can be realized with a centralized approach and supportive focus.

Cook answered questions about membership in the Alliance, explaining that there are currently eight racetracks in the OR Alliance and seven who presently are not. He explained that every track will need to join the Alliance in order to receive funding and that the complete racing landscape is not yet known at this time.

Glenn Pearson, former General Manager at Rideau Carleton Raceway, asked for clarification on the meaning of standardized purses and voiced concern for equal purse levels across the province. Cook explained that these sessions are being held to listen to key points from the industry to assisting in creating a better and sustainable model. The new Alliance will determine purse levels and Jamie Martin added that he believes there needs to be consistency within the purse structure.

The topic of uniform race dates for all tracks was also brought up during the consultation, with Cook explaining that this also needs to be discussed by the Alliance.

Some in attendance expressed concern over adequate representation of the Ottawa region and specifically Rideau Carleton Raceway in the Alliance. One person described Ottawa as an island unto itself and asked how the region can sustain its local programs within an Alliance framework.

The general consensus from many in the room is that what is being presented is reassuring and that the Ottawa horse industry is interested in joining the Alliance. As with most all other consultation meetings, the Ottawa region asked for assurances that they will be well represented and able to be at the table to represent their interests.

An attendee commented that Rideau has an excellent relationship with their local horsemen which needs to remain intact while another said that Rideau has been a leader and innovator of this industry and should be recognized. Further concern was expressed regarding a centralized Alliance in the Greater Toronto Area deciding the future for Ottawa’s horse industry. In response, Cook said that OR understands these concerns and further discussion will take place to work out solutions.

The question of whether there will be a focus on creating one horsemen's association was also posed, and Cook explained that this is not being discussed at OR.

Addressing further questions from those in attendance about the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. (OLG), Cook said that OLG is working on developing and establishing key performance benchmarks for consideration.

Gordon McDonald, President of the National Capital Region Harness Horse Association, offered additional feedback stating that the horse racing industry needs to be allowed to operate in a fair and level playing field with other sport and gaming industries and encouraged Ontario Racing to move expediently on the proposed funding plan as the industry is in dire need of stability and assistance.

In regards to timelines, Cook said that OR will forward it’s preliminary report to government early in the New Year.

The next in-person consultation session will held on Saturday, Nov. 19 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at Golfer's Dream Golf Club, Scugog in Port Perry, Ont.

This framework, subject to government approval, will be presented to the industry for feedback. If approved, this framework will provide the industry as a whole – from owners, trainers and breeders to racetrack operators – with the certainty they need to make investments in their businesses.

OR’s primary objective, to this point, has been to engage directly with the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. and the government to provide input to the development of a road map to sustainable funding for the industry. Now, OR’s focus will shift towards engagement with the industry as a whole to garner feedback on this proposed framework.

This proposed framework is based on key principles including:

  • A new racetrack alliance: all Ontario racetracks that conduct live racing will be invited to create a new alliance. It is proposed that Woodbine Entertainment Group (WEG) will serve as the administrator of this new alliance.

  • Longer-term, predictable funding: Ontario’s horse racing industry can invest in their businesses beyond 2021.

  • Ongoing accountability and transparency: decision-making based on evidence and agreed upon success indicators.

  • Industry leadership: racetrack business plans, race dates, purse levels will be aligned across racetracks for a coordinated approach. Ontario Racing will play a key industry leadership role in the future.

Widespread ‘in person’ conversations with the industry about these principles will continue across Ontario. Sessions will take place in every region of the province that has horse racing. The following consultation schedule has been updated. (dates subject to change)

  • Saturday, November 19 - 1:00 p.m. - 3:00 p.m. - Port Perry (Golfer's Dream Golf Club, Scugog)

  • Tuesday, November 22 - 2:00 p.m. - 4:00 p.m. - Milton (Gambrel Barn, Country Heritage Park)

Ontario Racing encourages all interested parties to submit their feedback about the future of the industry by accessing its online consultation portal here. The portal includes a series of questions and the option to attach a word document, for those who would like to share additional thoughts. The proposed long-term funding framework was outlined in a webinar, hosted on October 19, and can be viewed here.

Ontario Racing will collate feedback from the industry, and this perspective will inform recommendations to government.

(With files from Ontario Racing)

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