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Industry Update From Jim Lawson

Published: April 23, 2020 7:30 pm ET

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In a letter posted to the Ontario Racing website on Thursday (April 23), Woodbine CEO Jim Lawson gave a series of updates on the state of horse racing amid the current COVID-19 pandemic. Lawson also noted that he's planning another 'Stronger Together' virtual session on May 12.

The update letter is posted below.

To all Ontario Horsepeople,

As mentioned during last week’s virtual Stronger Together event, it’s so important to communicate and engage with each other during these times, even if it is more difficult to do so. To that end, we are committed to providing you with regular updates as we go through this journey together. In addition to providing you with these weekly updates, we are also committed to hosting monthly Stronger Together sessions so you can receive updates and ask questions. The next Stronger Together event is scheduled for Tuesday, May 12 at 2:00 p.m. This happens to be the same date that the current Provincial Declaration of Emergency has been extended to. We hope to be able to share positive news at this time that includes a clear path forward for the industry.

Thank you to everyone who joined us for last week’s Stronger Together. If you missed it, you can watch the session here.

Before going any further, I would like to reassure you that Woodbine Entertainment is doing everything we can to support the owners, breeders, trainers, and support personnel throughout the province. While some issues may be beyond our control, we are in regular discussions with various levels of government to represent the views of the industry and advocate for the return of live racing (without spectators) as soon as it’s permitted and safe to do so.

For this week’s update here are a couple of key points I’d like to briefly highlight:

Safety: Your safety is most important to us. We’ve put in place appropriately aggressive measures to ensure only essential personnel are accessing the backstretch and those who do are all screened and have their temperatures checked daily. Additionally, working with the William Osler Health System - Etobicoke General Hospital, we have retained a qualified physician to act as a consultant to Woodbine Entertainment, providing us with access to medical advice as we continue to navigate through these challenging times.

Support: Two weeks ago, Ontario Racing announced a program that redirects purse money to support horsepeople while live racing has been suspended due to the Provincial Declaration of Emergency. Since then, Ontario Racing has received more than 2,000 applications. I know they are processing them as quickly as possible so horsepeople can be paid as soon as possible. If you are planning on applying but haven’t yet, I strongly encourage you to do so soon. Click here for all the information and application form.

We are also working very quickly and diligently on Historical Horse Racing (HHR) as another opportunity to generate additional revenues that would be used to support the industry. HHR is a pari-mutuel product where individuals can place a wager on the outcome of races that have occurred in the past. Before the individual locks in a wager, information presented is anonymized in a way that prevents the player from identifying which historic race they are betting on. This is a proven solution used to support horse racing industries in various jurisdictions throughout North America. However, it’s currently illegal in Canada. We are attempting to legalize it, and in the meantime, we are developing the technology so we are ready to offer it through the HPIbet platform should we be successful. We will be sharing a letter that can be sent by you to the appropriate government officials to demonstrate industry-wide support for this initiative. Stay tuned for that.

Finally, thank you for your ongoing commitment to our industry. We’ve certainly been through some challenging times over the years, but I do believe we are managing through this crisis from a position of strength. We have a long-term funding agreement in place with the Government, a master development plan for the Woodbine property that is well underway, strong gaming partners at both sites, and of course, high quality racing that is recognized throughout the world.

While no one knows when this pandemic will be over, we do know it will be eventually. And when it is over, I am very confident our industry will bounce back strong. This industry, and the great people who work in it, are some of the most resilient people in the world.

Thank you and be safe,

Jim Lawson

(Ontario Racing)

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