Since the OLG’s announcement to cancel the slot-revenue sharing program at horseracing tracks across Ontario in favour of casinos in urban centres the move has divided many people across the province. Sites for casino development are being debated weighing the strengths of one area over another as one of the core questions of OLG’s new plan. But one area being sadly neglected throughout the process is the horseracing industry itself; ever since the announcement, things have changed on the track and not for the better.
It was 1998 when the OLG first made its revenue sharing deal with the horseracing industry that allowed the installment of slot machines on race track sites. This was a key strategy for the OLG as the tracks already had a core customer base that enjoyed gambling and also had their establishments up and operating, cutting out the cost of construction and infrastructure. The partnership worked for years for all sides involved as the slot machines helped generate over $1 billion in revenue, most of which went to the province for expenditures such as health and education; with money also going to the specific track and the municipality it was situated in.
But all of that money is slowly slipping away at the track since the OLG’s announcement to remove all slots by March 31, 2013 for casino development in big cities. Not only is the money being lost, thousands of jobs directly related to the slot machines’ racetrack establishment will be cut by this move with no guarantee any of those jobs will be provided in the new casinos. For smaller communities with few options for employment this is a devastating blow to their support.
The horseracing industry has taken its fair share of pain by the OLG withdrawal. The value of horses has declined by as much as 40 percent because customers who came for both the horses and the slots have lost interest without the machines. Some iconic tracks such as the one in Fort Erie will be closed by year’s end while communities like Windsor or Sarnia have already lost their race grounds. Due to the lost interest at the tracks horses are being shipped down to the United States or in some terrible cases, euthanized as a result of no chances to race.
The OLG and the Ontario government have sparked a lot of anger and dissent among Ontarians especially in smaller communities connected to the horseracing industry. While there are arguments both for and against casino development, one can’t help but wonder why a plan for casinos cannot correlate with slots at the track.