Woodbine Investigation Sheds New Light On Slots Program Cancellation

Details of a multi-year investigation shed new light on a standoff between the OLG and Ontario’s racetrack operators, primarily the Woodbine Entertainment Group.  The details hint that the cancellation of the lucrative slots at racetrack revenue sharing program may have been done out of spite rather than for the good of the Ontario gambling industry.

The OLG began a review in 2010 as to how revenue generated from the provincially owned slot machines at the racetrack was being spent.  Paul Godfrey, then Chairman of the OLG, wanted to determine if the slots revenue actually supported and improved the horseracing industry.

Godfrey was most interested in Woodbine Entertainment, and was demanding the OLG be allowed more oversight over how Woodbine manages its funds.  However, as the investigation delved deeper into Woodbine’s operations, the OLG found that the managers of the organization were paying themselves sizeable bonuses rather than re-investing back into the racetracks.

Investigators working with the Globe and Mail determined that Woodbine executives paid over $51 million in bonuses over 12 years.  Details of how the bonuses were distributed between employees and management remain unknown, though the matter is under review with the province’s gambling regulator.

The investigation led to a behind-the-scenes standoff between the OLG and Woodbine Entertainment.  Godfrey was unabashedly against maintaining the status quo with the horseracing industry and in March last year, he cancelled the lucrative slots at racetrack program. 

Godfrey stated the cancellation was due to the province’s gambling modernization strategy shifting towards privatized casinos, but the bad blood between the OLG and Woodbine undoubtedly played a hand in the scrapping of the program.  Following the installment of Kathleen Wynne as Ontario Premier, Godfrey was fired as OLG Chairman due to significant backlash from rural Ontarians who considered the OLG disingenuous.

Woodbine insists that any compensation to employees or executives was justified, and done above the board.  But the Ontario gambling regulator continues to investigate the matter, which means the case is far from over.

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