The Horse Racing Industry Transition Panel issued its final report to the Ontario racing industry on Tuesday and it primarily calls for an approximate 50-percent reduction in harness race dates so that purses would not be dramatically impacted.
On Wednesday, James J. Lawson, chairman of Woodbine Entertainment Group (WEG) released the following statement upon WEG reviewing the Horse Racing Industry Transition Report and discussing it at its Board of Directors meeting.
"Woodbine Entertainment Group is pleased that the Horse Racing Industry Transition Panel has reaffirmed that a vibrant, world class horse racing industry requires a strong partnership between the industry and Government. This includes the industry becoming a vital component of Ontario's provincial gaming strategy.
"The report itself contains a number of concepts and details which require a better understanding in order for WEG to comment more fully. WEG will work with its industry partners in order to ensure that race dates at its tracks are optimized based on available purse money, horse supply, customer demand and Woodbine's financial resources to conduct live race dates.
"WEG anticipates that the proposed model will evolve through further discussion and negotiation in order to ensure the desired outcome - a successful and sustainable horse racing industry in Ontario.
"WEG appreciates that Minister McMeekin has announced that negotiations will begin immediately in order to secure the 2013 racing season and set the foundation for continued success. WEG remains committed to delivering world-class racing and ensuring a sustainable future for WEG, its horsepeople and the thousands of industry participants in Ontario whose livelihoods depend on it."
The Horse Industry Transition Report was delivered Tuesday afternoon, five months before the Ontario government's deadline of March 31, 2013, to end the Slots at Racetracks Program. It also provides for a three-year plan that will allow the racing industry to eventually be self-sustaining.
Although it did not name individual racetracks, the panel divided Ontario's Standardbred racetracks into three groups: A (Premier), B (Signature) and C (Grassroots). The report stressed that purse pooling is essential to ensure full fields.
The Premier Group A appears to be the Woodbine Entertainment Group tracks of Mohawk and Woodbine. The panel noted that 243 race dates in 2011 generated purses of $81 million and the industry receiving $37 million from the pari-mutuel handle. The panel's recommendation is that the dates be reduced to 140, with purses averaging 80 percent of the 2011 numbers. That would result in $37 million in total purses, an average of $264,000 per day.
Six tracks were placed in the Signature Group B, which raced 731 days in 2011, with total purses of $60 million. The recommended number of race days by the panel is 300, with $22 million in total purses averaging $73,000 per race day.
Seven tracks were placed in the Grassroots Group C, which raced 308 dates in 2011 and had total purses of $18 million. The panel recommended reducing the number of race days to 140, with total purses of $4.2 million, an average of $30,000 per race day.
The panel also recommended that the provincial government provide racing funding for three years following the end of the slots program. Then it recommends additional gaming avenues, including a racing-themed lottery.
Also, the panel recommended sports wagering at racetracks as well as Instant Racing machines, which allow bettors to wager on historical races without knowing the outcome.
The Ontario Horse Racing Industry Alliance soon issued a response to the panel's report. In part, the response reads: "While the Panel's new Sustainable Horse Racing Model leaves many questions unanswered, OHRIA believes this is an opportunity for the industry to commence meaningful negotiations directly with government.
"There certainly are elements of the Model that need to be better understood, adjusted and modified but the Panel has assured OHRIA that based on this Model the government is prepared to enter into good faith negotiations with our industry.”
Sue Leslie, chair and president of the Ontario Horse Racing Industry Association (OHRIA), also publicly commented about the panel's report.
"There are things there that I don't envision working and other things that could work,” Leslie told Better Farming.
Race dates is one of Leslie's top concerns. "Everything ties into the race dates,” Leslie says, "for tracks to know what they are going to have in terms of operating expenses, for horse people to understand what their purses are going to be and for breeders to understand what the Ontario Sires Horse Improvement Program (HIP) program is going to look like, all those things need clarity. A lot of things in the report require discussion and clarity.”
Leslie says, "There's a lot to be worked out and not a lot of time to work it out in so I expect this going to move along pretty expeditiously now.”