Ontario has been put onto an uncertain path for the next few months as a number of bombshells at Queen’s Park have left the province without a leader, without a direction, and without certainty that the current government will continue. Dalton McGuinty surprised Ontarians earlier in the week by choosing to step down as premier as soon as a replacement can be found. But he also made the decision to prorogue the legislature which effectively killed all motions currently in session; including Andrea Horwath’s motion to put the OLG casino plans to municipal referendums.
That motion from the NDP leader was to give Ontarians a chance to truly express their opinion on the OLG’s plans as well as offer an olive branch of assistance to the horseracing industry. The tracks, and the communities that rely on revenue from the tracks; are preparing to take a big hit in lost revenue once the OLG completes its removal of slot machines from those locations. There are many visitors to the tracks who go strictly for the slots and once they are gone, it is business lost for those operators.
There have been many groups who have widely condemned the casino proposal especially the deadline the OLG is enforcing on city councils to make a decision before the year is over. The resignation of McGuinty allows a possible change to occur. The Liberals have been the ones working with the OLG to make the casinos a reality and cancel the current slot at track revenue program currently in place.
OLG chairman Paul Godfrey together with McGuinty and Finance Minister Dwight Duncan have been the most vocal in encouraging communities to approve the casino plans, while offering little to the horseracing tracks in consolation. But a new government, even a new Liberal leader may be more willing to compromise to work with both the OLG and the tracks. Both the NDP and the Conservatives have signaled they would put the proposal to a referendum and have even hinted at an agreement with the tracks to install table games or sportsbetting venues in addition to the races themselves.
The bottom line is while the casino plans may make sense for adding cash to the province and help pay off the deficit, there are groups and communities who will be left behind. The value of horses has sharply declined already as the major horse sales including the one at the Canadian Thoroughbred Horse Society; cost breeders so much money they didn’t break even. The industry is looking for a lifeline in this transition and a change in Ontario leadership may allow a change that benefits the horseracing community.