The Ontario NDP is calling for the slots at racetrack program to be extended into 2014, and that the governing Liberal gaming modernization plan should be put to municipal referendums. The horseracing industry has particularly struggled with the government’s transition to privatized casinos – the removal of slots from racetracks has lead to an overall decline in business for the industry and the closure of several tracks. Critics argue that there has been little time for racetracks to prepare for the new strategy, and the March 31, 2013 deadline is too soon.
NDP MPP Taras Natyshak believes the Liberals have sold out Ontario’s horseracing industry to provide private casino operators entry into the Ontario gaming market. He says the decision to gut the slots at racetrack program was made without any consultation with the horseracing industry or any opposition parties, and that Ontario families reliant on the industry’s success are paying the price for the Liberal mismanagement.
Natyshak says the horseracing community provides the Ontario economy with over $1.5 billion that pay for wages, salaries, and contribute to social programs throughout the province. However, the cancellation of the slot agreement with the OLG has closed several racetracks, already cost 1,000 good paying jobs, and threatens the elimination of up to 50,000 more jobs over the next year.
Natyshak is asking the government to keep the remaining slots at the racetracks until at least 2014 in order to give the horseracing community time to prepare a transition strategy of their own. He says the horseracing industry is the second-largest segment of the Ontario agricultural sector, and its continued decline will hurt rural Ontario communities for years to come.
The NDP has asked that the casino proposals be put to municipal referendums in 2014, thereby delaying any further removals of slot machines from racetracks. The NDP believes communities should each have a chance to vote to approve or reject the OLG modernization plan that would install casinos in their communities.
The OLG has been a divisive issue at Queen’s Park and will be an important ballot question when Ontarians next go to the provincial polls – pundits expect an election in early spring of 2013 after Dalton McGuinty announced his resignation as Premier.