May 26, 2015

OHRIA Industry Update

April 27, 2015 – The cancellation of Ontario’s Slots at Racetrack Program (SARP) has necessitated a lengthy and critical review of how the province’s vital horseracing industry might move forward to a future of profitable growth and true self-sustainability.  This is, by no means, a simple task or one to be taken lightly.   Patchwork “fixes” are not an option when an entire industry’s future is at stake.  A real solution to a problem this complex, unfortunately, takes more than a few months to achieve.  In order to provide the time to affect a strategic, long term plan, the government of Ontario, as you know, has provided $500,000,000 over 5 years to help stabilize the industry in the interim.

In the meantime, a group of key stakeholder organizations has been meeting regularly and collegially to envision, agree upon and provide ongoing support for such a plan.

Senior representatives from the provincial government, the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG), racing and gaming regulators and the Ontario Horse Racing Industry Association (OHRIA) on behalf of horse people, racetrack operators, breeders and owners, continue working in earnest to design a roadmap for success.  This group is tackling a number of complex and time-consuming challenges including:

1.             Optimizing the OLG’s evolving approach to the modernization of its facilities and products with its obligations to meet government revenue demands as well accommodate a fully integrated partnership with the provincial racing industry.

2.             Looking for opportunities to create and grow new revenues for both the racing industry and OLG.

3.             Equipping government ministries such as finance and agriculture and food with the proper resources to assist in the growth and sustainability of racing.

4.              Tasking regulatory bodies such as the Ontario Racing Commission (ORC) and the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) to reorganize in order to meet the demands of racing and gaming integration, including the potential revision of significant legal and regulatory barriers to new programs.

5.             Effecting day-to-day racing industry self-governance to ensure the smoothest possible path to industry sustainability, the most effective relationship with the OLG and regulators and the most effective reporting relationship with the provincial government.

6.             Broadening public interest in horse racing through planning for an integrated, province-wide marketing campaign designed to impact current and future generations of potential new racing and gaming enthusiasts.

7.             Coordinating and cooperating on market initiatives and interactive communications.

8.             Planning for the implementation of the best and most relevant ideas presented by members of the public to racing’s transition panel as part of the long term plan to sustain racing.

Frankly, getting this many groups and individuals on the same page on this many weighty issues is never easy regardless of the industry in question.  All have strong opinions, diverse points of view and each one really wants to make a positive contribution to the process.  It is also true that the OLG has gone through a protracted leadership change in the midst of its wide-ranging modernization initiative.

Now, under the leadership of new OLG CEO, Stephen Rigby, this industry restructuring committee is moving rapidly toward answers to all of the above challenges.  In fact, hands on task forces have been working, in some cases for many months, on each topic.  The good news is that meaningful executive meetings are now occurring with regularity and solid progress is being made.

All parties are aware of the uncertainty and anxiety being suffered every passing day by industry participants at all levels.  Please be assured that the people and organizations responsible for the racing industry renewal are moving forward. We are taking the time, as precious as it is, to get it right for a strong, vibrant racing industry both in the near future and for future generations.

Update On Integration With OLG

Sue Leslie, President of the Ontario Horse Racing Industry Association, recently spoke on the process of integrating horse racing with the province’s gaming arm — the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp.

The update was part of an audio interview posted on the OHRIA website.

“Well,” Leslie said with a sigh to interviewer Norm Borg, “integration continues to be a very slow process, unfortunately. I do believe that the people involved at OLG and the province are sincerely working with us and trying to move integration along.

“The more involved we get in it, the more complex it becomes and, as you know, OLG were operating for some time without a CEO. Stephen Rigby now is in charge over there and I’ve found him to be very demonstrative, very willing to work with us, a good communicator. And so I think that getting him in place is going to help the process a lot.”

Leslie noted that one of the key individuals working on the integration process — Larry Flynn, Senior Vice President of Gaming at OLG — is retiring at the end of the month after 14 years.

“[Larry] probably understood our industry better than most there so that will be a little bit of a setback but I know he’s been briefing Stephen (Rigby) like crazy. We have had excellent communication, and I have had excellent communication. I think Phil Olsson, the Chair, has done a good job in the selection there.”

Noting that she’s well aware of the frustration on the horse racing industry side, Leslie offered reasons for those wondering why the process isn’t moving as quickly as everyone would like.

“The frustration is hard to take some days. I know the OHRIA Product Committee, who’s been working for months now to get something up and moving, sure has their frustrating days…but you’re trying to satisfy two regulators, you’re trying to satisfy legislation, you’re trying not to cannibalize existing products, and figure out how strategically a product will work to increase money both for the province and horse racing. It is a very complex issue.”

In addition to this integration, Leslie notes that there is still some discussion at the government level on where the horse racing industry should be placed and reporting to: OLG or OMAFRA.

“Those things are all being discussed right now to try and figure out both how the government should be governed as it pertains to horse racing…if we’re actually going to become a part of OLG, which is what the Premier wants — us to be fully integrated. Well, if we’re going to be fully integrated, that’s a big step.

“So, we need to make decisions on the governance on the government side and we also need to finalize governance on the industry side. Are the right people sitting at the table? How should that move forward? How should it work with OHR, ORC, AGCO, not to mention all the industry members…so we’re looking at that model to see if the existing model really or does that need to be tweaked somehow. Or does some type of interim governance model make sense as we go through integration and transition. Not to make excuses but they are very time-consuming.”

Leslie concluded the integration discussion with assurance and confidence that those involved have the best interests of horse racing in their scope of vision.

“All I can say is I believe OHRIA is working hard and both OLG and government — Minister Leal at OMAFRA has been terrific, I really believe Minister Leal cares about horse racing and he has his staff working diligently on all these things too. We’re trying to marry it all together — the agencies, the ministries, the industry — and come up with a formula that is going to work best for the future for everybody.”

To listen to the full interview, with Leslie’s thoughts on the new tapeta surface going in at Woodbine Racetrack as well as the Pari-Mutuel Tax Reduction, click the play button below.

OHRIA Thanks Nick Eaves and Welcomes Jim Lawson to its Board

January 19, 2015 - OHRIA Thanks Nick Eaves and Welcomes Jim Lawson to its Board

As he prepares to step down as president and CEO of the Woodbine Entertainment Group, the board of directors of the Ontario Horse Racing Industry Association (OHRIA) would like to thank Nick Eaves for his inspiring and tireless support of the Ontario horse racing industry.
During these last few tumultuous years with the very future of the sport hanging in the balance, Nick provided the kind of passionate leadership that helped stabilize Ontario racing and set it on a path toward sustainability. “His candour, courage and business acumen will be greatly missed by the OHRIA board and we wish him well in future endeavours,” said Sue Leslie, OHRIA President.
According to by-laws, the new Woodbine president will replace Mr. Eaves as an OHRIA director. Therefore, at the end of March, OHRIA will enthusiastically welcome WEG’s soon-to-be interim president, Jim Lawson, to its board.
Mr. Lawson will provide continuity to Woodbine’s contribution to OHRIA’s efforts for a sustainable future and that should bring confidence to the horse racing and breeding industry. “I have been fortunate to know Jim for a long time. He has been deeply involved in negotiations with government and brings a wealth of experience to the OHRIA table,” commented Sue Leslie.


Racing-Gaming Integration Update

“I look forward to the future. I think the right people are sitting at the table to move this forward now, and the cooperation is there.”

In an update posted to the OHRIA website, Sue Leslie discusses the status of the long sought-after reintegration of Ontario’s horse racing industry with the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. One problem that’s a current impediment, according to Leslie, is that there is still some lack of clarity on what exactly “integration” means.

“There’s been a little bit of a delay in pushing hard forward because all of us — both on the horse racing side and in the OLG — are trying to make sure that we really understand what Premier Kathleen Wynne and her government means by integration,” Leslie told Norm Borg. “So we’re trying to get a more well-defined description of what the government’s view of integration is and that should be forthcoming very shortly.

“The cooperation is there; obviously with what we’ve all been through, and as much as we really don’t have sympathy for OLG, this has been a difficult two years for them, too. They haven’t had a lot of stability in terms of their leadership at OLG. To [OLG Chair] Phil Olsson’s credit, he is starting now to gel that and gel his board.”

By “very shortly”, Leslie indicated that she’s hopeful that answer would come “in the next couple of weeks.”

On the side of horse racing is, according to Leslie, the majority government in Ontario that should help expedite any future projects. There are some “short-term” projects on the table now that, according to Leslie, would take less time to realize than others. Details on those products were not elaborated on in fairness to those currently working on them.

Leslie and Borg also discuss the recent announcements pertaining to Fort Erie and the Standardbred yearling crop as well as the idea of establishing a marketing fund for racing from the province’s purse pool. To listen to the full interview, click the link below.

Racing-Gaming Integration Update

Racing & Gaming Integration Update

After a series of constructive conversations, representatives of the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation and Ontario Horse Racing Industry Association are ready to sit down to decide the specifics of how horse racing can best be integrated into the province’s overall gaming strategy.

Sue Leslie, president of OHRIA, made the announcement on Monday.

“The last couple of years have been challenging ones both for the OLG and the Ontario racing industry,” Leslie said. “We are at a point now, though, where we can all begin to take a serious look at some of the intriguing ideas and possibilities that have been put forward by the OLG, OHRIA and the racing industry, at large,” stated Leslie.

According to Leslie, the two groups will review, analyze and recommend innovative products and programs with the ability to further the business and economic objectives of both parties. “We are more than confident that, with the right products in place, horse racing can make a real contribution to the OLG’s bottom line. And, that, in turn, racing will benefit significantly from such a strategic partnership,” Leslie said.

“We need to be mindful that, whatever programs we decide to go forward with, must represent a ‘win/win’ proposition for both entities. That is what a successful partnership is all about.”


OHRIA Welcomes Minister Leal

The Ontario Horse Racing Industry Association is pleased with the announcement that Premier Kathleen Wynne has named Jeff Leal as Minister of Agriculture and Food, taking over those duties from Wynne.

The Agriculture portfolio is very important for members of the horse racing industry, and OHRIA looks forward to dealing with Minister Leal in this key position.

As Minister Leal will also be continuing in the position of Minister of Rural Affairs, we know the Minister already has a great insight into the concerns of our members and we are interested in building our relationship further.

“The past two years have seen tremendous changes for our industry, with significant issues that need to be addressed and Minister Leal has already demonstrated through word and action a genuine concern for the horse racing and breeding industry,” said Sue Leslie, President and Chair of OHRIA. “We expect the government will be a strong partner in tackling these concerns in the next few months.”

Prior to the cancellation of the Slots at Racetracks Program 60,000 people were employed in the horse racing and breeding sectors. The industry continues to employ tens of thousands and plays an important role in the economy of rural Ontario, and OHRIA looks forward to our next meeting with Minister Leal to work together on building a strong partnership with the government.


OHRIA Congratulates Kathleen Wynne on Election

The Ontario Horse Racing Industry Association (OHRIA) is congratulating Premier Kathleen Wynne on her election last night.
“We’ve worked closely with Premier Wynne over the last year and a half and will continue to work with her and her government to successfully integrate horse racing into the province’s gaming strategy and to ensure the industry and government can have a meaningful partnership going forward,” said Sue Leslie, President and Chair of OHRIA.
Central to Kathleen Wynne’s plans to reduce the deficit, growing revenue will prove important, and the horse racing and breeding sector are proven partners for the government in this regard.
“The horse racing and breeding sector have and will continue to work with all MPPs from all parties to ensure a bright future for our sector and that horse racing and breeding are contributing positively to both the government’s revenues and the province’s economy,” Leslie added.


Candidates Respond To OHRIA Survey

The Ontario Horse Racing Industry Association has received some immediate response to the letter from Sue Leslie sent by email to all Ontario election candidates this past weekend.

OHRIA is posting the responses to support that have been received on the website and will continue to post the responses at they are received.

Also attached is the Ontario PC Plan for Horse Racing Jobs which was sent by a couple of the candidates who have responded.


Todd McCarthy – Ontario PC Candidate for the riding of Ajax-Pickering

“Count on me and the Ontario PC Party as the next MPP for Ajax-Pickering to stand up for your 60.000 member industry. We will restore the Slots at RaceTracks revenue sharing plan that was cancelled by the Liberal govt. I have pledged my unwavering support to Barry Picov and Bob Broadstock of Ajax Downs.”

Michael Ceci – Ontario PC Candidate for Willowdale

“While there are no horse racing tracks in my riding of Willowdale, the Ontario PC Party and I support Ontario’s horse racing industry. If elected, a PC government and I would work towards reversing the damages done to the industry by the McGuinty-Wynne Liberal governments. You can read our plan for horse racing jobs in the attached document. We’ve got a job to do. It’s time to get Ontario working better.”

Toby Barrett – Ontario PC MPP for the riding of Haldimand-Norfolk-Brant

“Mr. Barrett is behind the horse racing industry. Answers to questionnaires will come from the central party.”

Adam DeVita – Ontario NDP Candidate for Richmond Hill

Q1. Do you agree with this statement and will you support racetracks as sites for expanded gaming centres?
A1: We support the Slots at Racetracks Program. It makes sense to increase the enjoyment and excitement of race day with other festivities and games.

Q2. Do you think integrating horse racing, and specifically racetracks, into the OLG’s Modernization Strategy is the best option to maintain a sustainable horseracing industry? If not, what do you think is the best option
A2: I think the OLG’s Modernization Strategy was created for the purpose of expanding revenue to the government at the expense of other priorities, a sustainable horse racing industry and related jobs being one of them.

Q3. As a way of ensuring that HORSERACING remain sustainable, do you agree that racetracks should have the first right of refusal to host a new casino before
building new casinos in the same region?
A3: We are committed to openly consult with citizens about potential casino locations. This question seems to presume that there would be new casinos.

Q4. Do you believe the horse racing industry is economically important for the
province and would provide a better opportunity for increasing gaming revenue for the province than building new casinos?
A4: Yes.

Q5. Do you believe a revenue sharing partnership is the best way to ensure long-term support and viability of horse racing in Ontario? If no, what do you believe is a better option?
A5: Yes.

Jeff Yurek – PC MPP for Elgin-Middlesex-London

Yurek pledged his support for racing.

Celia Ross – Ontario NDP Candidate for Sault Ste. Marie

“There was outrage across rural Ontario when the McGuinty government (of which Kathleen Wynne and Ted McMeekin were senior cabinet ministers) abruptly announced the end of the ‘Slots at the Racetracks’ program – devastating the horse racing industry.

Ontario’s seventeen tracks provided $3.7 billion in revenue over the past 15 years: a critical industry for our province and its third largest agricultural industry next to dairy and beef. In 2012, Flamboro Downs supported 176 direct racing jobs, 250 race-day positions and provided about $4.5 million in revenue to the municipality; by 2013 as a result of the McGuinty-Wynne-McMeekin reorganization of the industry, Flamboro Downs went from 188 races down to 100.

Ontario’s New Democrats understand the horse racing industry is vital for tens of thousands of direct and indirect jobs in rural Ontario. Failing to consult and prepare industry for major changes doesn’t make sense. The Ontario NDP has called on government to re-introduce the SARP until a better plan could be agreed on in consultation with industry. Communities have made it clear that they do not want casinos that the Liberals were trying to force on them. The Ontario NDP is committed to a vibrant future for the horse racing industry and our agricultural sector.”

Garfield Dunlop – Ontario PC MPP Simcoe North

“I trust you know I’m fully behind the OHRIA, and recognize the magnitude of the challenge facing the industry as a result of the Liberals devastating cuts.

I hope to have the opportunity to continue working with groups like the OHRIA in the next legislature.”

John J. Martins – Ontario People Party Candidate for Etobicoke Centre

Q1.Do you agree with this statement and will you support racetracks as sites for expanded gaming centres?
A1: Yes, I would like to expand gaming centre to all racetracks

Q2. Do you think integrating horse racing, and specifically racetracks, into the OLG’s Modernization Strategy is the best option to maintain a sustainable horseracing industry? If not, what do you think is the best option
A2: It’s certainly a good option, so yes….I would like to secure the future of Fort Erie Race Track by seeking an historical designation and run it like Saratoga “Festival Days” model………..Parks Canada to trustee the track.

Q3. As a way of ensuring that HORSERACING remain sustainable, do you agree that racetracks should have the first right of refusal to host a new casino before building new casinos in the same region?
A3: Yes absolutely

Q4. Do you believe the horse racing industry is economically important for the province and would provide a better opportunity for increasing gaming revenue for the province than building new casinos?
A4: It was working fine before the Liberals killed SARP. Woodbine was becoming the star in North America attracting investment from America trainers. Now without SARP they have gone home.

Q5. Do you believe a revenue sharing partnership is the best way to ensure long-term support and viability of horse racing in Ontario? If no, what do you believe is a better option?
A5: Yes it’s the best option. If it isn’t broken…don’t fix it !

Donna Skelly – Ontario PC Candidate for Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale

Skelly pledged her support for racing.

Ontario PC Plan For Horse Racing Jobs

Kathleen Wynne’s Pledge for Horse Racing

(OHRIA, Standardbred Canada)

OHRIA Seeks “Champion of Horse Racing and Breeding”

The Ontario Horse Racing Industry Association wants candidates who are running for the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to sign a pledge indicating they will be a ‘Champion of Horse Racing and Breeding’ if elected on June 12, 2014.

“OHRIA has taken this step because we’ve seen the importance of working with MPPs from across Ontario and all parties over the last two years,” said Sue Leslie, President and Chair of OHRIA.

“In February 2012 our industry was threatened with collapse due to a policy decision that likely seemed minor to the individuals making the decision. Through OHRIA, we were able to engage the public and politicians from all three parties and because of that work, we are here today, looking toward the future,” Leslie added.

The champions of horse racing within the industry and inside the Legislature have kept the industry alive despite the cancellation of the Slots at Racetracks Program, but Ontario’s horse racing and breeding industry will continue to need champions of our sector to allow us to continue to thrive and finish the job on gaming integration and renewing a lasting partnership with government.

“Horse racing needs champions in the Ontario Legislature and as an industry we must continue to work together and with these champions to move our industry forward. The lead up to the June 12, 2014 election is a great opportunity for candidates to come forward and pledge to support the industry, so the 60,000 people who work in the horse racing and breeding sector know who to support on Election Day,” said Leslie.

The champions of horse racing pledge is available to download from the OHRIA websiteand has been emailed to candidates for all major parties in ridings where Ontario’s horse racing and breeding sector has a significant impact. Responses to the pledge will be shared on the OHRIA website prior to the June 12, 2014 election.


Province ‘inept’ on horse-racing file: Sudbury council

The Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. “has failed the people of Ontario miserably,” a city councillor said Tuesday.

“They’ve left us in a mess. A disgraceful mess,” Terry Kett said.

The discussion, to do with Coun. Claude Berthiaume’s motion for a casino to go only at Sudbury Downs, quickly got heated. Several times Mayor Marianne Matichuk reminded councillors to avoid politicking.

Berthiaume explained he was asking council to “throw a lifeline” by approving the motion.

Gaming and horse racing are entwined, the Ward 3 councillor said, and there is “a crisis in the horse-racing industry in this city.”

Approximately two years ago the province ordered the OLG to put a stop to the Slots at Racetracks program. Slots at Racetracks was a revenue-sharing agreement in which Ontario’s 17 racetracks received a certain percentage of revenue from slot machines set up on site.

In place of slot machines, full-fledged casinos were to be built in interested municipalities. This “modernization,” as it was called upon introduction, has yet to materialize.

When Kathleen Wynne took the reins from Dalton McGuinty, she pledged $500 million over five years to help keep horse racing going.

Sudbury Downs doesn’t have a deal yet. The race season is supposed to begin May 24.

According to Sudbury CAO Doug Nadorozny, the OLG said a request for proposals for the northern bundle of casinos (including Sudbury) is set to come out in weeks.

However, he continued, they’ve said that many times.

Coun. Frances Caldarelli has “a lot of sympathy” for Sudbury Downs.

“What this provincial government did, I just haven’t seen anything so inept in many years,” she continued. “They have done a lousy job. There’s no doubt about that. They’ve come and told us they’re going to do all these things. They’ve kept none of their commitments, but we’re expected to keep ours. That’s what’s difficult to swallow.

“Casinos are really on the way down. I don’t think they’re a rising force. Nobody knows quite what to do. As much as I sympathize with the people out at the track … and I think that’s a good place for a casino, I don’t think this is our problem to solve. It’s a problem the OLG really needs to resolve themselves.”

Kett said he couldn’t support Berthiaume’s motion.

“As soon as we do that, we can’t go back. We’re restricted. That’s where we want the casino.

“An OHL arena, or hotel, or convention centre, won’t happen at Sudbury Downs … So for that reason only, I won’t support it.”

Council put off making a decision until it can get the OLG, Sudbury Downs and the Ontario Racing Commission together to provide some answers.

“I was hoping we’d pass this motion and we’d put Sudbury Downs as the area to have the casino,” Berthiaume said after the meeting.

“I don’t think we can split the harness racing and the casino. It has to be together in order for Sudbury Downs to survive. Of course, the industry’s already there. People are already working there, at the slots, right now. We have harness racing. To save their jobs, that’s why I was hoping we would pass this motion tonight. But now we’ll see what happens.”