By: Jennifer Morrison Freelance Sports writer, Published on Fri Aug 22 2014
For nearly 15 years, Ontario horse racing tracks have been home to two very different types of people. On one side, the casino player wants to pull a handle or spin a wheel and have instant results.
Behind the casino walls, horse racing bettors study and decipher an age-old sport, supporting an industry that is of significant importance to this province. Other than the slots-at-racetracks partnership program that shared revenue between the two groups, never did the two businesses crossover.
However, before the end of August, Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation chairman Philip Olsson and team members will sit down with key members of the horse racing industry to begin the process of true integration.
The integration of horse racing into the OLG’s modernization plan for gaming was brought about by Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, who inherited a horse racing industry that was close to being wiped out by the cancellation of that slots-at-racetrack program two years ago by former Premier Dalton McGuinty and former OLG chairPaul Godfrey.
In October 2013, Wynne received a five-year partnership plan report from her Horse Racing transition panel of John Snobelen, Elmer Buchanan and John Wilkinson. That included a $500 million subsidy over five years to assist horse racing in the immediate future and recommendations on the melding of racing and the OLG critical to the future of the industry.
The process has been painstakingly slow out of the gate but the sides are now ready to analyze products and proposals.
“Any product or idea that has been put forward will be completely analyzed for its pros and cons: what will produce the best results for both horse racing and the OLG, the legal ramifications, etc.,” said Sue Leslie, chair of the Ontario Horse Racing Industry Association which will meet with Olsson this month.
“It has been frustrating that it has taken this long but there were a lot of approvals needed and a lot of red tape. But the relationship between the groups is very good and we are getting close now.”
Leslie said that there are many products and ideas to be discussed, including some innovative plans that would be developed by OLG and partnered with racing.
And there is not a lot of time to be wasted: breeders of thoroughbreds and standardbreds that did not go out of business in the last two years have been encouraged by tracks such as Woodbine and Mohawk maintaining its purse structure are still hanging on just blades of hay.
Tony Bitonti, spokesman for the OLG, emphasized that there are many parameters that need to be met for a product to fit both horse racing and the OLG.
“Horse racing comes under federal legislation while the OLG is under the Criminal Code and provincial legislation” said Bitonti. “We are starting this integration with racing from square one so we have to find the product that will work best with the provincial and federal laws.”
Lotteries and horse racing could seemingly go hand-in-hand but there are other possible approaches such as new wagers or casino-type games such as the slot-like Instant Racing, which essentially saved racing in Arkansas and has been very successful in parts of Kentucky.
The slot game uses the results of horse races that have previously been run to determine payouts for players.
The popular Swedish bet V75, a lottery style game, generates billions of dollars for horse racing in Sweden and has been mentioned by some horse racing industry members as an option.
In that game, a player can buy a lottery ticket in which the winning numbers correspond to horses racing on tracks, rather than numbered balls from a drum.
The size of the jackpot would be determined by the odds of the horses to win.
“One of the goals is to have something that works for both groups,’ said Bitonti. “But it is important to develop a firm revenue stream for horse racing, so that it does not (only have) government funding. We want to develop and integrate a product between the OLG and horse racing that helps promote growth in racing, increase purses and ensures its survival.”