After months of speculation and frustration on the part of racing fans, breeders, owners, track employees, and anybody whose livelihood depends on the racing industry, Woodbine Entertainment Group (WEG) today confirmed that it has reached an agreement in principle with the Province which ensures the continuation of live horse racing at Woodbine and Mohawk Racetracks for the next two years.
The Ontario provincial government announced the cancellation of the successful Slots at Racetracks program, effective March 31, 2013, which would have signalled the end of funding for racing. At the 2012 Queen's Plate post position draw, Woodbine's CEO Nick Eaves threatened the permanent closure of the racing facility should that happen.
Under the program the province received 75% of slots revenue, the horse racing industry received a 20% share of the slots revenue, a figure which was negotiated to offset the cannibalization of the industry’s wagering dollar to the slots, and the municipality where the racetracks are located received a 5% share of the slots revenue. The racetracks provided the floor space for the slots which were owned and operated by the government's Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG).
Woodbine chairman Jim Lawson said, "This long-awaited agreement offers stability while WEG and our partners in horse racing work with government towards a long-term sustainability solution. It's clear to us that this is only a short-term fix, and sustainability can only be achieved by the integration of horse racing into the province's gaming strategy. As the largest operator of horse racing in Canada, WEG is committed to working with the government to achieve this critical outcome. Our challenge is to now build a new, sustainable model for horse racing in Ontario that continues to set the standard internationally. I'm confident that working with our partners in industry and government, we can achieve that goal. Our industry deserves nothing less."
Ontario Horse Racing Industry Association (OHRIA) president Sue Leslie said, "While this announcement ensures racing for the next two years at WEG, it does not deal with the five year breeding cycle and the investments made by breeders, horse owners, and race track operators all across this Province. Horse racing must be integrated into the OLG's overall gaming strategy in order for the industry to remain sustainable."
In a release, the Ontario HBPA said, "The Ontario Horse Racing Industry Association must work with all political parties and industry participants to ensure that horse racing is part of the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation’s – Modernization Plan for gaming in this province. With this in mind, we will continue to work with our partners in the horse racing and breeding industry for our mutual long term viability. We recognize that these past 10 months have been difficult on horse people and we thank you for persevering with us and ask for your continued patience."
With the agreement in place, Woodbine is now able to announce its 2013 race dates. Opening day will be on April 20 and the meet ends on December 15. There will be 133 thoroughbred racing days at Woodbine, 99 standardbred cards, and 84 standardbred cards at Mohawk for their summer meet. Horses may move into the backstretch on March 1. Woodbine also announced that the Queen's Plate, Ricoh Woodbine Mile, and Pattison Canadian International will be run, as well as the Pepsi North America Cup at Mohawk. The track will announce its complete stakes schedule at a later date. "I am delighted that at long last, we have been able to provide our fans, industry partners and the horsemen and women of Ontario with more clarity about our 2013 schedule," said Nick Eaves, President and CEO of Woodbine Entertainment Group. "We will continue to work hard to achieve an industry model that will sustain and grow our industry, and this sport, for the long haul."