The Ontario government has set aside $50 million in transition funding for the province’s horse racing sector over the next three years as a major income stream slows to a halt.
Along with the transition funds, announced Thursday, comes a new three-member provincial panel which will consult with the sector and map out a transition plan in the next few months.
The province said in March that it will shut down the Slots at Racetracks program at the end of March 2013, costing the province’s 18 racetracks funding which is expected to total $340 million in fiscal 2012 alone.
The program, set up in 1998, is a revenue-sharing agreement between the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. (OLG), the province’s racetracks and host municipalities, allowed government-operated slot machines to be placed at racetrack facilities.
"Our government understands that ending the Slots at Racetracks program and responding to market demands poses a challenge for everyone involved in the horse racing industry," provincial Finance Minister Dwight Duncan said Thursday.
"That’s why we are committed to helping the industry move toward greater self-sufficiency without government support."
The province’s panel, which will consult with the industry to "help develop a vision for the future," will be led by former provincial ag minister Elmer Buchanan; former natural resources minister John Snobelen, a well-known horseman; and John Wilkinson, a former revenue and environment minister.
The panel is also tasked with providing recommendations to the province on how to allocate the $50 million transition funding, and advising on "the modernization of other industry revenue sources to assist the industry in becoming more self-sufficient."
Employment Ontario will help "displaced workers" in the industry to find jobs and training, the province added Thursday.
The workers’ situation presents "a bitter testament to the serious economic impact these changes will bring," the Ontario Federation of Agriculture said in a separate release Thursday.
The transition funding and panel consultations present "some hope to a severely damaged sector," OFA president Mark Wales said.
"The ‘ready, shoot, aim’ approach of the Ontario government has been extremely disheartening for all horse racing stakeholders… The McGuinty government tore down the industry first and is only now consulting on its future."
Slots at Racetracks set aside 20 per cent of gross revenue from a racetrack’s OLG slot machines, to be split equally between a racetrack’s operator and those involved with running horses at that track.
Ont. to halt horse racing industry’s slots program, March 12, 2012