Hiawatha To Race, Sudbury Will Not

Published: May 26, 2014 03:53 pm EDT

Within minutes on Monday afternoon, announcements were made that signified good news for horsemen awaiting race dates in the Sarnia area and a bombshell of disappointment for Northern Ontario's harness racing season.

On Monday, May 26, the Ontario Racing Commission announced that it has approved 21 race dates for Hiawatha Horse Park’s 2014 season of live harness racing.

Hiawatha Horse Park, located in Sarnia, will hold its first live date on Saturday, June 28. From there, the track will host programs of live racing every Thursday and Saturday until September 6.

First-race post time for Hiawatha’s programs will be 6:30 p.m.

To view a race date calendar for the 2014 season at Hiawatha, click here.

Shortly thereafter, a press release was received from Sudbury Downs indicating that the track could not reach a deal with the province and thus will not hold live harness racing in 2014.

The official release from Sudbury Downs follows.

We have today advised the Ontario Racing Commission that, because of the lack of a commitment from the Province to provide adequate funding, there will be no live racing at Sudbury Downs in 2014. Race dates scheduled for June have been cancelled and further cancellations will be implemented as required.

After cancelling the highly successful Slots At Racetracks partnership in 2013 that generated substantial revenue for the provincial horse racing industry, the Province of Ontario has dedicated $500 million of public funding over the next five years to support the provincial horse racing industry. These funds will be allocated to various parts of the horse racing industry by the provincial regulator, the Ontario Racing Commission.

Despite extensive efforts over the last six months, Sudbury Downs has been unable to secure an agreement with the Province to allocate a reasonable share of the committed provincial funding, to the horse racing industry in northern Ontario. While the Province has offered to provide some funding for northern racing for the next five years, the level of support proposed is grossly inadequate and represents approximately 1% of the funding provided to the whole industry.

Sudbury Downs has provided its detailed operating costs and revenues to the provincial regulator and has offered to conduct its racing operations on a “Not For Profit” basis that would be subject to provincial monitoring and audit. We are not prepared to incur substantial operating losses for the next five years. Our offer has not been accepted by the provincial regulator.

The province, through the Ontario Racing Commission, has failed to recognize the unique circumstances and challenges faced by the horse racing industry in northern Ontario. As the only racetrack in northern Ontario, Sudbury Downs is isolated from the bulk of the horse racing industry in southern Ontario, and is truly a regional racetrack that must singularly provide for the needs of the northern industry. Similarly, northern horsepeople do not have the same flexibility or options as their southern Ontario counterparts. A funding model for horse racing in the southern part of the province where there are 15 racetracks in relatively close proximity, is not necessarily appropriate for northern Ontario.

The Ontario Racing Commission has also taken away, without compensation, Sudbury Downs’ off-track betting rights in northern Ontario. Off-track betting across the north provided significant income to help offset track operating costs and to provide purse funds for the horsepeople. The Ontario Racing Commission has now ordered that these revenues from northern Ontario wagering go directly to the racetracks in southern Ontario.

Sudbury Downs sincerely regrets that, after 40 years of operating live horseracing, we must now terminate this part of our business. The loss of approximately 100 full time equivalent jobs in the local horse racing industry will have negative consequences for our local economy today and into the future. We thank all our dedicated horsepeople, racing employees and fans for their participation over the last 40 years.

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@Sheldon Rose.

Whether it is right or wrong Sheldon, it is the optics of the situation that ultimately damages your cause. Will makes a valid point as a tax payer or as a fan. For whatever reason the bottom line is there are less fans coming to spend money on the product you are providing. Did the government screw the racing industry? My response is simple. Get in line Mr. Rose because you are one of the many. Will Yamakva isn't trying to champion a cause or stand on a soap box, he is simply asking you to look in the mirror before you start pointing fingers. I see the track owners who let tracks run down into disrepair with very little accountability. I see trainers with fines and suspensions. For how many are caught, how many aren't punished. How can you expect people to want to spend hard earned money (tax or entertainment dollars) on an industry that "on the surface" seems to not care. I also see very few drivers that are down on ownership of horses. I know there are numbered companies and or stable names that may have drivers part of some horses but on the surface to the "lay" person who has entertainment dollars to spend, it seems like there are very very few drivers who invest back into the sport through horse ownership. This all relates back to the optics of the sport and how the people who like to gamble find other places to do it. Either way Will Yamakva concerns are valid and minimizing those concerns will be the demise of the sport.

Will, Firstly, the OlG agreed to provide our industry with a small portion of revenue for allowing them into our gaming destination. It was good for both sides. For them a huge new source of revenue and for us expanding our revenue stream. Any business needs to expand or diversify revenue(Tim Hortons) or run the risk of dying. Secondly, the government gets to unilaterally create gaming laws (to their benefit)which could be catastrophic to existing private gaming establishments. There has to be an element of fairness that needs to be employed. Hence the SARP program. You really need to examine your underlying disdain for horse people also. We have absolutely no power to effect change on the managing or governing of the racing industry. I have personally went to meetings and offered many useful suggestions only to be ignored. I started out as a bettor and now have racehorses and am horrified like many others at the complete and utter lack of effective management and leadership from some racetracks and government. This was supposed to be a new era according to the panel. Nothing has changed. To use your example of the Meadowlands...First they changed management and then built a beautiful facility. They treat the customer well and the results speak for themselves. The horses and horse people are still the same. Clearly they were not the problem. So direct your anger/frustration towards management first. They are the culprits. Even still, Gural still hopes one day to get slots to be competitive in the new world or it would be unlikely he would have taken this venture on. Cheers Will.

Will - you don't have any skin in the game. There is no investment on your part. You don't have to pay admission or for that matter even wager. You are a fan. Just like with any other sport, fans don't have any investment in what goes on with he team. They are merely spectators. It might be wise to crusade for another cause.

Will - How many in your family go to the slots in Sudbury? There are many reasons why the handle in Sudbury is low. One is they don't send out their signal. Another is that their handle figure does not included simulcast wagering. If you don't like the Sudbury pools, wager somewhere else. When you have skin in the game, comment. A new worthwhile project for you would be to spend some time telling the Blue Jays to shut down their Buffalo franchise because it is losing money and not attracting fans.

In reply to by [email protected]

Mr Rose,

I do understand the signal is not exported, and I also know the simulcast wagering isnt included, but a percentage of those wagers goes into your purse anyways. This does not change that the actual racing is not generating more than $5k-$10k of bets. This means less than $2k of $30k in purses came from bets on the product. This is really unsound business sense in any industry. That being said, it does not matter what slots my family went to, as citizens of Sudbury did go. They are also partners and receive a cut.

so far.... you nor anyone else has provided an actual reason why the slots should close, but rather have only stressed why you need the revenue.
Oh.... and I do have skin in the game. Im a racing fan.

without fans, you have no sport.

Horsemen that don't think fans should be heard is part of what is wrong with racing. This disdain and outright dismissal of people who's opinion should count is the crux of the problem.

If this forum was not created for a debate for passionate fans who actually want the industry to survive and thrive, then this forum is worthless. Preaching to the choir is not a productive endeavor.

Will ... 15 years ago the OLG (or whatever it was called back then) had nowhere to put their slots because Ontario cities made it clear they didn't want them. Since Race Tracks already had Gambling licenses they convinced Race Tracks to house their slots in return for a share of the slots revenue. SARP worked just fine for 14 years .. helping Ontario's Horse Racing Industry while providing the Ontario Government with about $1 Billion in revenue each year.

SARP wasn't perfect and there's no doubt some track owners were more interested in promoting the slots than promoting horse racing. SARP needed some fine tuning and recommendations had been made .. and your right, horse racing needs to find ways to compete with Casinos, Sports betting, on line poker etc, and somehow appeal to the younger generation.

In the mean time, the grandiose plans of the likes of McGuinty, Duncan, and Godfrey (with, no doubt, the encouragement of Larry Tanenbaum and the American Casino Operators) .. involved a concerted effort to destroy Ontario's Horse Racing Industry. In spite of their efforts .. changing the rules for referendums and "spinning" SARP as a subsidy that was taking funds away from education and child care .. they are pretty much back to where they were 15 years ago.

Major Ontario cities such as Toronto, Hamilton and Ottawa (and many others) still don't want Casinos .. and so, for the time being, the OLG and the Ontario Government still need to operate their Slots "at Race Tracks". The difference is that they can no longer afford to fulfill their contract and provide the 20% share agreed to. Obviously not, they've wasted too much of the taxpayers money on E-Health, Ontario Hydro, ORANGE, Green Energy, Gas Plant cancellations etc., etc. Funny how they can still allow Bingo Halls to retain 47% of "their" revenue.

.... and somehow, you think that the Sudbury Downs "RACE TRACK" and the OLG should still be allowed to operate Slots (using the race tracks gambling licence)
while providing no benefits to Ontario Horse Racing!

In reply to by youngr46

Thank you Mr Young for your reply.

I understand the part about what happened 15 years ago, and im aware what cities do not want casinos. Id like to reply to a few things that seem to be the issue that the majority of Ontarians have here.

1) im aware Sudbury is a RACETRACK, but that does not change that in the partnership between horseman and the slots, one clearly can't support itself. The citizens clearly have chosen one part of that partnership. To close the slots, penalizes Sudbury and loses revenue for the city. Dont forget.... the city is ALSO a partner and receives revenue, just like the horseman.

2) you can say the government is HALF right. Slots at some tracks is a subsidy DESPITE what horseman refuse to call it. Horseman can act like an even partner when the slots are kicking in $30k of a $35k card of races because only $10k was bet and 75% went back to winning bettors. This happens weekly. Look at Clinton, Dresden, Sarnia or Sudbury, the harness never ever pulls its weight. London, Toronto, flam, RCR, they can be looked at as partners. While they got slot money, the handles at those tracks, justifies being included as partners.

3) you can blame whatever political folk you want for "destroying" harness racing, but taking a look at the card I tried to bet on sunday at Clinton, the results are here on the site, not a single race on the entire card was $500 bet in either the win, place or show pools. Not once. $19K was the total handle yet $35k was given away. Clearly the fans are not tuning in to the extent needed. That is obviously not about the gamblers. How can you expect fans to come when they cant win big?

2 years has gone by, I have been reading the articles here. I notice a few things..

a) never any comments about how well Quebec and Meadowlands are doing DESPITE not having slots. There is a working model to the North and East, but that does not appear to change much

b) the constant comments about politics this and politicians that outweighs the "let's bring back the fans" , "lets race for a full grandstand" or "how can we improve..." by at least 200:1.

So in short..... to answer your question, since the city is a partner just the same as the horseman, I do not think simply showing up to race is enough to be included as a partner. If you drop under a level where 80% of the revenue needed to race comes from elsewhere.... then you are not as great of a partner as you think.

Why should we respond.? This forum was not created to debate with you. Please don't take this personally but I think you should concentrate on making a living for yourself and let us deal with our own situation.

In reply to by [email protected]

So harness racing is only about those making a living? The fans and gamblers mean nothing? The taxpayers like myself mean nothing? Its not about debating. Your response affects me as both a gambler and a taxpayer. Losing slots means losing money generated for my province.

slots generate revenue towards our tax base. Remember this is a "campaign issue" so it involves me.

nothing worse than telling a racing fan to mind his own business......

clearly Mr Rose, your words to me show horseman are not getting it. Your industry is dying not because slots are done, but because the general public sees only 1 industry benefitting from them. Many members of my family have never been to a horse race, but go weekly to the slots. Why should they lose that opportunity because horse racing isn't financially feasible.

incredible and insulting that you think this about horseman only.

In reply to by [email protected]

So no actual response?

The citizens of these cities have spoken by what they attend the facility for. If they have chosen slots over horses, why should they lose the slots? Why should any city be forced to take harness with the slots? An answer would be appreciated.

Im confused......

if Sudbury citizens have clearly not supported live racing after seeing handles under 10k, why should they be penalized and have the slots taken away?

im all for Sudbury racing if the industry was even close to breaking even, but how can horseman agree the gap between purses and handle being so far apart means the slots should make up the revenue to that extent?

Many days Sudbury didn't have $5k in bets over the entire card.

Shouldn't the horseman be lobbying the fans to come back or the gamblers of horse racing?

Its not fair to us racing fans that bet on races to see $400 in the entire win pool. Its not politicians fault the pools only get $5k.

Really why should a racetrack going into a 5 year commitment with a Gov. like we have. Yes they made money and lots of it with the SARP,but know when asked to run at a loss they say no.What business person out there would. Just because the liberals like to spend more than they have most people with any common sense would not. It is a shame for the horseman in Northern Ontario to have no place to race. The fact of the matter is no racing no slots I hope they take that into account. Tim Hudak said no live races no slots. Let us see if he will stick to his word. Ronda Markle

Sad state of affairs. The only Horse Racing track in all of Northern Ontario must close it's doors after 40 years of racing .. due to the misguided decisions of the OLG and our Ontario Liberal Government.
I guess we all know where Northern Ontario stands with our Ontario Political Parties. Tim Hudak couldn't even make it to Thunder Bay to take part in today's debate.

And yes, if there's no racing at Sudbury Downs, then the OLG slots should immediately be shut down.