Ontario’s Horse Racing Partnership Plan is out of the gate.
On April 1, the provincial government’s five-year plan to invest up to $500 million in the horse racing industry kicked in.
The financial support from the government increased to $500 million from the $400 million announced in October, because the original funding had “gaps in terms of some support for regional tracks” and additional money would be used to support breeders, said Mark Cripps, communications director for Ontario Premier and Minister of Agriculture and Food Kathleen Wynne.
Cripps said he believes the plan is “pretty solid.”
“While this was a difficult period for horse racing, we believe and I think a lot of people in the industry believe… that a little bit of a shake up was needed to get the horse racing industry to understand there’s regeneration coming forward and they have to find ways to stay viable within that emerging class,” said Cripps.
The closing of the Slots at Racetracks Program (SARP) by the province and OLG in 2012 cut about $350 million per year in commissions from the horse racing industry, said Vel Evans, market research consultant for Strategic Equine Inc., which specializes in business analysis of the equine, equestrian and horse industry.
“[The provincial funding] is a necessary requirement because the government changed the revenue stream,” said Evans. “It is not equal to the value that the industry was generating when it was autonomous of tax dollars.”
Cripps said slot machines aren’t as attractive to the younger generation of gamblers as they are to the older generation.
“That’s why the OLG is trying to modernize too, because they’re trying to find new ways to bring in gamblers because governments rely on that revenue,” he said.
More money strengthens the government’s plan for the industry, but it is still a big difference from where the industry was, said John Gallinger, president and CEO of Standardbred Canada.
“This little bit of additional funding, I’m not sure it’s going to go far enough to get us back to where we were,” he said.
The significant decline in revenue from cancelling the SARP forced the horse racing industry into a restructuring process, Evans said.
The government provided money, apart from the $500 million, to help racetracks develop business cases pertaining to the available funding, said Cripps. The business plans had to be tied to the four pillars of the plan: transparency, accountability, return on investment, and growing the customer base, he said.
The province was critical of the industry for not doing enough business development and marketing to improve or increase the customer base, said Gallinger.
“A lot of the money is going to have to be allocated to operations of the racetracks, allocated for purses for people to race more,” he said. “But hopefully there will be mechanisms in the new plan to allow for funding to be provided for those types of activities [marketing].”
Reintegrating horse racing into the OLG modernization strategy is one part of the restructuring process the premier said would move the industry forward, said Cripps.
And just down the street from Humber’s North campus, the Woodbine Entertainment Group (WEG) encourages the efforts to integrate horse racing into gaming in Ontario.
In a press release published by the Ontario Standardbred Alliance on April 1, Nick Eaves, WEG’s President and CEO, said, “The next critical step of the government plan is for the integration of gaming and racing through the optimization of Alliance tracks for the mutual benefit of horse racing and the provincial treasury.”
The Standardbred Alliance is a core group of race tracks centered around the concentrated horse supply in Central and South Western Ontario
Additional revenue for WEG could mean more job opportunities for students from Humber, said Christine Colosimo, career advisor at the Career Centre at Humber.
WEG attends Humber’s annual summer job fair in January and recently students landed jobs in security but were unable to secure food and beverage positions, Colosimo said.
“[WEG] had a huge career fair over there a few years ago and I attended to see what opportunities were available to students and I couldn’t believe the droves of people that attended the event,” she said.
Most of the available jobs were part-time but WEG was paying about $18 per hour, said Colosimo
“There was huge interest.”