Will racetrack slots program return to Ontario under new PC government?

Will racetrack slots program return to Ontario under new PC government?

June 8, 2018

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Last night, the Progressive Conservatives led by Doug Ford won a majority government in the Ontario election. One of the PCs’ election promises was to look at reinstating the Slots at Racetracks Program (SARP).

by Dave Briggs

Ontario’s Progressive Conservative (PC) party — led by Doug Ford, brother of late Toronto mayor Rob Ford — won a majority government Thursday in the province’s general election a week after promising to examine the possibility of reinstating the Slots at Racetracks Program (SARP).

As of press time, the PCs were projected to win 76 seats, with the New Democratic Party taking 39.

The Liberal Party, which had ruled the province for 15 years, cancelled SARP in 2013 under a cloud of controversy. A $65 million lawsuit brought by the Standardbred Breeders of Ontario Association (SBOA) against the province is still working its way through the courts.

The PCs initiated SARP in the late 1990s.

Last week, a number of PC candidates issued statements supporting SARP and how it shared revenue directly with the horse racing industry by allocating a 20 per cent cut of slot revenue — shared equally between tracks and purses — to the industry.

Premier Kathleen Wynne, who had grown extremely unpopular with the electorate, was handed a devastating loss in the election. As of late Thursday, the Liberals went from holding 58 seats in the Ontario Legislature to seven. Should that result stand up once all the votes are counted, it will mean the Liberals have lost official party status which requires a party to win at least eight seats.

Under Wynne’s leadership, a long-term funding deal for horse racing was consummated that offered up to $105 million annually — about a third of what the industry received under SARP. Most of the province’s racetracks retained slot machine parlours, control of which has shifted from the Ontario Lottery and Gaming corporation to private casino companies, with racetracks receiving lease payments for the gaming space.

Last week, PC Jim Wilson — who was re-elected Thursday in the riding of Simcoe-Grey — released a statement entitled: An Ontario PC Government will immediately begin work to bring back the Slots at Racetracks Program.

Wilson’s statement said, in part, “when we brought in the Slots at Racetracks Program it was considered a win-win. It solved the government’s problem at the time of where do we put legal gambling without having to open up new sites. The program was working for everyone.”

The statement went on to say the PCs will “launch a working group to consult with the horse racing community and gaming proponents to bring slots back to racetracks as quickly as possible.”

Ford’s riding includes Woodbine Racetrack. As a Toronto city councillor he was often supportive of the track’s efforts to get expanded gaming and develop its property. Last week, at a campaign stop in Port Colborne, not far from thoroughbred Fort Erie Racetrack, he told the crowd, “I’m a big supporter of the horse-racing industry — in fact, the biggest track in the country, Woodbine, is right in my riding.”

Woodbine Mohawk Park president Jessica Buckley confirmed that Woodbine Racetrack is, in fact, “in the heart of Ford Nation here in North Etobicoke. There’s a lot of our core people and a lot of our employees live in this area, so (Ford has) always been very supportive of the business and the jobs that it provides, which is great.”

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