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Reactions To Wynne's Gaming Announcement

Published: March 8, 2013 3:41 pm ET

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After Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne promised on Friday, March 8 to incorporate Ontario horse racing into the province's gaming modernization plans, a trio of provincial racing groups and Essex MPP Taras Natyshak issued releases to address Friday's announcement.

Although there was nothing technically binding in what she said Friday at Grand River Raceway regarding the policy switch, and although no specifics were given, Premier Wynne did mention and reiterate that she wants to see the Ontario horse racing industry integrated into the OLG's gaming modernization plan. Although, OLG Chair Paul Godfrey has made absolutely no specific mention of amalgamating Ontario's horse racing industry into his organization's gaming plans going forward.

Regardless of Godfrey not having mentioned it, Premier Wynne clearly went on the record as saying that there will be a marriage between Ontario horse racing and OLG modernization going forward, and that horse racing will have access to revenue streams from "new and different gaming opportunities" going forward. Wynne said, "I would like to see the integration of the two -- of the policy, yeah." A lengthy quote from Premier Wynne on the topic appears below.

"One of the key recommendations of the panel was to integrate horse racing with the provincial gaming strategy, and I am committing to the sector that we are going to make that happen. It has been made clear to me -- and I absolutely accept -- that it makes more sense for us to integrate these two endeavours, and that's what is going to happen. We are going to ensure that racetracks will have access to revenue from new and different gaming opportunities -- that was another recommendation from the transition panel -- in order to have that sustainable future. I remain committed to implementing those changes. We have been, and we will continue to work in consultation with the industry partners for the long-term good of the industry."

For complete coverage of Wynne's announcement, click here.

The three provincial racing groups that have come out and publicly lauded Wynne's policy switch is the Ontario Horse Racing Industry Association, the Woodbine Entertainment Group and the Western Fair District. Their releases, and the feelings of MPP Taras Natyshak, appear below.

OHRIA Encouraged By Major Policy Change To Horse Industry File

With less than a month remaining before the industry’s share of revenue from the Slots at Racetracks Program ends, OHRIA's continuing efforts to engage the Premier and the government have resulted in a major policy change regarding the Horse Racing and Breeding Industry in Ontario.

In a press conference earlier today, Premier Kathleen Wynne, speaking in her role of Minister of Agriculture and Food, announced that the Horse Racing and Breeding Industry will be integrated into the provincial gaming strategy to ensure future revenue streams for race tracks to continue to operate racing.

In a press release from the Ministry of Agriculture and Food, Minister Wynne stated, “We continue to work with other tracks while we work with the sector on a new market-driven model that works for the industry and is good public policy.”

Being integrated into the gaming strategy provides the industry with a chance to work with government to ensure a vibrant horse racing and breeding industry.

“There is still a long road ahead of us,” cautioned Sue Leslie, President of OHRIA, “However we now have the opportunity to plan a more sustainable future for the horse racing and breeding industry working in partnership with the government instead of competing against the Province’s other gaming products.”

Minister Wynne stressed that consultation with the horse racing and breeding industry, represented by OHRIA, continue with the government appointed Horse Racing Transition Panel. “We need the process of integration to begin as soon as possible if we have any chance of future survival for the industry.” stressed Sue Leslie, stating that the OHRIA Board has conveyed the importance of action and not just words. “It is breeding season again and we must instill confidence for breeders and owners by proving that breeding and racing in Ontario is a secure investment.”

The OHRIA Board understands that the livelihoods of many in the industry will depend on the outcome of this latest development. “We are all hurting from the actions of this government,” commented Ms. Leslie, “The lives of thousands of hard-working individuals and families have been turned upside down. With all that this industry has been through the past year, it is understandably difficult to trust that these latest developments are going to yield the desired results. However we view this as an important and positive step and we must continue to work with our current government to achieve a more sustainable future for our industry.”

WEG Applauds Premier Wynne’s Announcement

Woodbine Entertainment Group (WEG) President and CEO Nick Eaves released the following statement in response to Premier Kathleen Wynne’s announcement today that her new government intends to integrate horse racing with the provincial gaming strategy to ensure future revenue streams for racetracks:

“WEG is very pleased that Premier Wynne has personally intervened to ensure that Ontario’s horse racing and breeding industry will have a sustainable future.

“The uncertainty of the last 12 months has been chaotic for our industry and has adversely impacted small businesses and communities across the entire province. The new Premier clearly understands the critical importance of a vibrant horse racing and breeding industry to the province’s economy. Her commitment to ensuring its sustainable future by reintegrating it with the province's gaming strategy is meaningful and a welcome policy change at WEG.

“Woodbine and Mohawk racetracks, which WEG operates, have in reality been vital elements of the Province’s gaming strategy for the past 14 years. We look forward to continuing that partnership with the Province and its agency, Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG), to maximize revenue streams for both our industry and for the Province.

“WEG is proud to support Ontario's horse racing and breeding industry, which is a significant contributor to the economic vitality of rural and urban Ontario. WEG’s business activities generate more than 7,500 jobs in its markets, and as the provider of the leading venues for horse racing in Ontario, WEG supports thousands more direct and indirect full-time jobs across the province and provides a total annual economic contribution in excess of $2 billion, including more than $780 million to the agricultural sector.

“A strengthened partnership between the Province and our industry will only enhance this contribution. WEG believes that a necessary element of building upon this partnership will be pursuing expanded gaming operations at Woodbine and Mohawk racetracks, operated by WEG.”

NDP: OLG modernization threatens rural Ontario, silences concerned Ontarians

Essex MPP Taras Natyshak says current plans to roll Ontario horse racing into the modernization of the OLG spell trouble for the breeders, farmers, and rural communities who depend on the race industry.

“The government’s plan isn’t a modernization plan - it’s a privatization plan,” said Natyshak. “Insiders stand to make millions pushing casinos in the backrooms while farmers and breeders are treated like collateral damage.”

The Ontario horse racing industry was thrown into turmoil by the Ontario government’s decision to withdraw from the Slots At Racetracks Program.

Natyshak says the government is undermining the home-grown racing industry by forcing it to partner with OLG right as it launches a major push for private casinos.

“From day one, the Liberals have been more interested in helping well-connected insiders push casinos on communities that don’t want them,” said Natyshak. “Like McGuinty, Wynne is choosing to ignore Ontarians whose livelihoods depend on horseracing.”

Natyshak and his NDP colleagues at Queen’s Park are calling on the government to pause the OLG modernization program.

“The Premier needs to take a moment to really listen to concerned Ontarians,” said Natyshak. “Ontarians want referendums on casinos, so they can have a say on gaming in their communities, and the government needs to stop undermining the horse racing industry. We need to provide people in the horse racing industry with a sense of certainty, and some hard numbers for the future.”

WFD Responds To Wynne's Announcement

On Monday, Western Fair District issued a response to Premier Kathleen Wynne's announcement on the future of horse racing in Ontario.

The release from Western Fair is as follows:

There was mixed reaction to last Friday’s announcement by Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne regarding the future of racing in the province. Some people reacted with negativity and doubt, some were positive and upbeat while others were, understandably, confused and apprehensive.

There are still a lot of questions to be answered and a lot of details to be finalized before anyone has a true picture of how the Standardbred industry in Ontario will be structured going forward. However, at this juncture, Western Fair District would like to congratulate and thank the following:

Ted McMeekin, the former Agriculture Minister, for his foresight and wisdom in putting together the horse racing transition panel and the three exceptional individuals who served on it, Elmer Buchanan, John Wilkinson and John Snobelen, who each brought a unique and essential skill-set and knowledge to the table.

Premier Kathleen Wynne, the current Agriculture Minister, for inserting herself in the process, for consulting the panel directly and for mapping out a new funding model for racing beginning April 1. The fact that the Premier recognizes the significance of horse racing to the fabric of Ontario’s agricultural community is essential for its survival.

The Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation for their partnership of more than a decade and one that we are confident will ultimately continue in some shape or form. They are not the adversary and the racing industry is not finished yet with this business relationship.

Our customers who have been patient and continued to support the product through all the uncertainty and difficulties of the last year.

Our industry’s associations for their hard work and efforts, particularly OHRIA and Sue Leslie for what they were able to accomplish over the last year.

The Western Fair District is grateful for the opportunities that lie ahead, the details and path of which are still unclear. The organization has been given an opportunity to help shape and implement a new racing model, albeit a smaller one, but one that has the potential to remain relevant and meaningful.

“We continue to be optimistic and are committed to helping forge a new future for racing in the province, despite everything that has happened during this past year,” concluded Hugh Mitchell, CEO of Western Fair District.

(Western Fair District)

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