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Lawson Discusses Mohawk Closure

Published: March 22, 2020 11:10 am ET

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On Sunday, March 22, Woodbine Entertainment CEO Jim Lawson took part in a live interview to discuss the current state of horse racing at Woodbine Entertainment and in the province of Ontario amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Western Fair District's Greg Blanchard conducted the interview for a special edition of COSA TV, which aired from 4 - 5 p.m. (EDT).

Blanchard asked Lawson what it has been like for Woodbine Entertainment to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. The management team at Woodbine has been working tirelessly since the situation became extremely fluid roughly two weeks ago.

Lawson explained that a task force was formed and that it’s been crisis management ever since. He noted that the tipping point for the world of management was when the National Basketball Association announced its moves. “We had to do our part as corporate responsibility,” said Lawson, who went on to state that it’s been around the clock crisis management ever since.

Lawson went on to say that Woodbine acknowledges that there are so many livelihoods at stake given the shutdown of live racing at Woodbine Mohawk Park and in Ontario, generally. “It’s been a heavy burden, no question about that, but people’s safety comes first,” he said.

In its effort to keep Mohawk racing through the pandemic, Lawson said that the track learned quite a bit about crowd control in the paddock. “We were taking every measure possible in trying to ensure people’s safety,” said Lawson, who admitted that the situation took its toll on the management team. He also went on to explain that Woodbine Entertainment did its best to create a safe environment for horsepeople to continue to race. “We tried as hard as we could, but we just couldn’t push that any farther.”

Lawson said that the decision to postpone live racing at Mohawk was not easy, and that the company and racing’s participants did everything within their power to create a safe environment for the horses and horsepeople. According to Lawson, after a while “it felt like we were pushing a rope uphill.” He explained that he had been on the phone 14 hours a day dealing with all of Woodbine’s racino-related entities. “It’s taken a lot to shut down two facilities,” said Lawson, who stated that Woodbine wants to communicate and work with everyone in the industry during these times.

Lawson indicated that Woodbine is currently in preservation mode. “We don’t know how long this is going to last,” he said, “but when we do get over this, and we will, we want to come back. We don’t want to abandoned projects, we want to come back stronger….We will weather this and the industry will weather this, but it’s not easy for any of us.”

In speaking of the Ontario Racing task force that has been assembled and next steps, Lawson said that things are clearly in the preliminary stages, but that they have to move quickly.

“I spoke with Jean Major of the AGCO on Thursday (March 19) and the OLG, and at that stage I wanted them to know that there would be hardships with cancelling live racing,” said Lawson. “The task force has good representation…. it’s a good group that understands the industry. The task force is meeting Monday with ideas of what structure will look like.”

Lawson went on to say, “I think that government will be supportive, especially with what is at stake.” Lawson said that he is confident that government will listen. “There has never been a greater time where people in this industry have needed them (the government)… They need to listen now, this is very critical to people and their livelihoods.”

Lawson has faith in the Ontario horse racing industry, but acknowledges that government support will have to be a part of the future. “We’re only going to be able to come back and come back stronger if we keep people employed,” said Lawson. “We’ll all be better off if we can keep people employed in this industry and keep the horses taken care of ….. we will come back, and we will come back strong.”


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