On Tuesday, March 19, Ontario Ombudsman André Marin announced that he will not conduct an investigation into the province’s decision to end its slots-at-racetracks program.
The release --- the contents of which appear further below --- also contains a letter from Marin. The letter explains the results of the Ombudsman Office's review of complaints from hundreds of concerned members of the Ontario horse racing industry regarding the Ontario Liberal Government's decision to end the slots-at-racetracks program.
In this case, it is clear that the Ontario government’s decision to end the Slots at Racetracks Program was made in the wake of recommendations in the Drummond Report and after the OLG’s strategic business review, which included stakeholder consultation. A standing committee of the Legislature also considered this issue as part of its review of the 2012 budget bill. The decision to cancel the program was taken by the Government of Ontario as a matter of broad public policy, as opposed to a decision made in the course of the administration of a governmental organization. It is not the type of decision that would normally be subject to scrutiny by the Ombudsman.
We recognize that the government’s decision has created an enormous level of uncertainty in the horse racing industry. Negotiations are continuing with the industry in an effort to assist the horse racing sector with its challenges. The OLG has also been involved in separate negotiations with regard to the continuation of its slots facilities.
In light of all of these circumstances, our Office will not be conducting a formal investigation at this time.
The contents of Marin's press release on the matter appear below.
Ombudsman Completes Review Of Hundreds Of Racetrack Slots Complaints; Will Not Launch Formal Investigation
Ontario Ombudsman André Marin announced today that he will not conduct an investigation into the province’s decision to end its Slots at Racetracks program.
The Ombudsman received more than 350 complaints after the province’s announcement last March, which stemmed from recommendations in the Drummond Report. Because of the high volume of complaints and the serious concerns raised by complainants, the Ombudsman assigned a team of investigators to conduct an in-depth assessment of the complaints and issues.
Investigators interviewed dozens of horse owners, trainers and many other people whose livelihoods were affected by the decision. They also interviewed senior officials in the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs and the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) and reviewed a large volume of documents relating to the decision.
“We recognize that the government’s decision has created an enormous level of uncertainty in the horse racing industry,” Mr. Marin says in a letter sent to all complainants. Nevertheless, he says, the government’s decision was a matter of “broad public policy” and is “not the type of decision that would normally be subject to scrutiny by the Ombudsman.”
The letter notes: “The Ombudsman does not substitute his views for the judgment of elected representatives, who are responsible for setting broad public policy. Under the Ombudsman Act, his investigations focus on government administration.”
The Ombudsman’s review found the decision was made after the OLG’s own strategic business review, which included stakeholder consultation – and it was considered by a committee of the Legislature as part of the 2012 budget bill. Since then, the Ministry continues to deal with issues of transitional funding for racetracks and the OLG has negotiated to retain slots at some after the program ends at the end of this month. Premier Kathleen Wynne announced additional changes March 8.
The Office of the Ombudsman has conducted some 30 systemic investigations since 2005, sparking numerous government reforms, including an overhaul of OLG lottery security and its investigations of “insider” wins.
Mr. Marin’s full letter can be found here.