"I suspect that the Premier and the government of the day have the last word on the policy on this file and I think that was a pretty clear statement of intention from the Premier."
In an interview conducted late last week, Norm Borg and OMAFRA's John Snobelen discussed the recent announcement made by Minister of Agriculture & Food Kathleen Wynne concerning the intent for Ontario's government to bring horse racing back into the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation's land-based gaming strategy. Snobelen's words should be welcome news for horse racing as the industry was sent into a tailspin following the 2012 announcement that horse racing would no longer be a partner with the province and was cut from its slots-at-racetracks partnership.
Snobelen could not offer any specifics on how that re-integration will take place as that exceeds his scope with OMAFRA. He did, however, discuss one possible revenue stream that he, John Wilkinson and Elmer Buchanan did propose racing can access: historical racing.
"One of the things we put into our report was historic racing. It's a really good product, matches the kind of profile of a person who wagers on horses fairly well," said Snobelen. "It is a pari-mutuel product and the next step in that is to go our friends in Ottawa [the CPMA] and make applications....I know there's been a past history of having some problems with that but I think people now are very focused on keeping live racing alive and well in Ontario and this is now a critical part of that."
While the concept certainly allows for another gaming option within the framework of racing, it leaves a big question mark in terms of marketing and promotions with the OLG's gaming strategy. Where will racing sit on the scale of priorities?
"I think once the province has said 'look, we're going to have live racing in the province of Ontario' and they're willing to do it out of general revenues if not out of a share in gaming revenues, then you've got a pretty clear commitment," stated Snobelen. "Obviously, the industry would rather do business as part of the gaming strategy because it provides more certainty people think it does."
In a continuing theme of certainty, Ontario's harness racing is certainly uncertain on the issue of race dates and purses. Snobelen stated that by the end of this week there should be more information while noting that the total purses available to Ontario racing - if derived from handle - will be "north of $100 million" plus the $30 million that has been provided through the Horse Improvement Program.
With respect to race dates, Snobelen noted that with WEG set for live racing the rest of schedule still needs to be finalized and that should also be announced toward the end of this week.
"We are in final conversations with a whole series of tracks - we just finished one about three minutes ago - on how to do the transfer payments from government to them to keep them open and whether they're interested in being in business in 2013 and beyond," said Snobelen. "There are lots of those conversations under way right now and we are in the final stages of all of them."
To listen to the full interview with Snobelen and Borg, including what's happening with Kawartha Downs and whether someone else could administer racing at that location, click the play button below.
Trot Radio - Episode 289 - John Snobelen
Audio Format: MP3 audio
Host: Norm Borg