The Woodbine Entertainment Group (WEG) is ecstatic to focus on horseracing again after months of agonizing over the cancelled slots at racetrack revenue sharing program shared with the OLG. Woodbine racetrack is kicking off its 2013 season by hosting the Sovereign Awards on April 19, followed by the first official race of the season on April 20.
In 2012 the Ontario government, under then Premier Dalton McGuinty, cancelled the OLG slots arrangement with Ontario racetracks, which was officially discontinued in March. The program’s cancellation meant that racetracks, including Woodbine, lost a lucrative $345 million revenue stream that forced dozens of tracks into closure. McGuinty’s successor, Kathleen Wynne, recognized that the abrupt cancellation was unfair for the racetracks, horse breeders, and rural Ontarians who rely on the industry. Shortly after she was nominated as the new Premier, Wynne began negotiating new arrangements with racetrack owners, including the WEG.
The WEG successfully negotiated a two year transitional agreement with the Ontario government to continue operations at its Woodbine and Mohawk racetracks, but the lost slots revenue is still damaging nonetheless. The WEG was forced to let go 100 of its salary employees, and eliminate 23 of its scheduled races this season.
WEG CEO Nick Eaves says he is encouraged that the new Premier is willing to incorporate the horseracing industry into the OLG’s expansion strategy. Eaves would welcome casino expansion at Woodbine and other racetracks, a proposal the government is currently reviewing. The WEG believes that model will reinvest money back into an industry that is essential for the rural Ontario economy, and Eaves is optimistic the new administration will make a decision with the best interests for everyone involved.
“It’s been a very difficult year for everybody in the industry. Hopefully the weeks and months and years ahead will be better because sensible decisions are being made based on people and jobs and economic development.”
Nevertheless, Eaves is very excited about the weekend’s festivities. He says the Sovereign Awards honour the best horse breeders and racers in the industry, and is especially excited for the first official race of the season on Saturday.