Thursday, August 2, 2012

No good business sense in closing slots at racetracks

Taking a stand on the future of Ontario’s horse industry

This article appeared on the July 31st Editorial page of the Guelph Mercury.  It was written by Susan Farrelly, a Mercury Community Board Member. 
It takes a lot of courage when an individual, group of individuals or a corporation stand up for something they believe in, especially when it involves raising public awareness.
I witnessed this recently through the actions of my friend, Christie (Powell) Portwood, who wrote a moving letter to the editor of the Guelph Mercury, published on July 11, about the impact of ending the slots-at-racetracks program in Ontario. She has since become a very strong local advocate on this issue, using social media as a platform, further educating myself and her extended network of contacts on this important issue.
As we know, it sometimes takes a “village” to impact positive change.
During the day, I work for the County of Wellington. I am proud to say the county is taking a very strong stance, and leadership role, in educating the public and the provincial government against ending the slots program.
On May 29, a public meeting was hosted by the county for individuals concerned about the future of horse racing in Ontario and the impact of the slots removal from the racetracks on local industry. More than 250 people attended this meeting, led by Warden Chris White. At this meeting, Robert Wright, a veterinarian and renowned horse specialist, made a presentation on the economic impacts of horse racing provincially and in Wellington County.
The county moved forward in compiling the information obtained at this meeting and preparing a report on the impacts of cancelling the slots at the racetracks program. A five-minute documentary film (which will be screened Tuesday at 2:30 p.m. at the Bookshelf cinema in Guelph) was also created, showing the human side of what is going to happen if the slots are removed from the racetracks in Ontario. Local individuals and business owners were interviewed for the film, including breeders, veterinarians, trainers, a café owner, a local mechanic and more.
Make no mistake, the province of Ontario will have much to lose if it moves forward with this initiative.
Over the past 14 years, the horse-racing industry in Ontario has benefited from the Ontario government’s several revenue-sharing agreements. Through these agreements, the government receives back 75 per cent of the net revenue from slots, with the remaining revenue being split between track owners (10 per cent), horse owners (10 per cent) and host municipalities (five per cent). Since 2004, as a result of the revenue-sharing agreement, Wellington County has received proceeds in excess of $3.5 million, and Centre Wellington Township, where the Grand River Raceway in Elora is located, has received proceeds to date of more than $12,344,000. The provincial government has received millions of dollars in tax revenue from these agreements to date, funding programs such as health care and education.
Ending the slots-at-racetracks program does not make good business sense.
Of the biggest concern locally is how much the residents of Ontario, and specifically the rural areas in our region, will have to lose if the slots are ended at the racetracks. There is so much money infused into Wellington County due to the strength of the horse-racing industry. Local businesses experience the benefit of having an influx of visitors to the area, investments are made in horses and infrastructure, and local businesses benefit both in hospitality and businesses ancillary to the horse-racing industry.
If the government moves forward with ending this slots program, businesses will close, jobs will be lost, families will suffer.
Ontario will lose.
After Tuesday, the county-developed documentary Restore the Programme, along with the report, will be available on the county’s website at The county will be sending the documentary on disc, along with the written report, to all MPPs in Ontario.
View the video. Educate yourself. Share the video with your extended network. Raise awareness. Contact your local MPP, and remember: It takes a “village.”

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