Read Part 2 - Ontario’s Horseracing Subsidy, Part 2
By Patrick Battuello,
In Behalf of Animals
There are winds of change blowing through Ontario’s horseracing industry, and the horsemen don’t like it one bit. Which means that animal advocates may soon have something to celebrate. Back in the spring, the Ontario government voted to end the “Slots at Racetracks Program (SARP)” effective March 2013. In place since 1998, the racino structure funnels 20% of slot revenues, $345 million last year and some $3.7 billion since inception, into the racing industry (mostly seen in higher purses). But as the province says (in the words of the finance minister, CBC News, 8/20/12), “We are in difficult fiscal times and we cannot afford to subsidize an industry to the tune of $365 million a year….” Basically, Ontario is sending horseracing the same message heard by almost every other business: Swim or sink solely on the merits of your goods and services. Capitalism 101, and the smart money is at the bottom of the pool.
In the not so distant past (1980s), horseracing enjoyed a virtual monopoly on the gambling market. But lotteries and casinos ushered in a period of steady decline, and desperately, the industry turned to the province for “stabilization.” Sensitive to racing’s supposedly rich tradition, Ontario obliged with the installation of slots at all 17 tracks, which the industry calls a “revenue-sharing partnership.” But in a report from an independent panel established to guide racing through this transition, it was noted that SARP exceeded its charter: “SARP did more than stabilize the industry’s financial position: it ignited rapid growth fueled, not by the demand for horse racing [italics added] as an entertainment and gaming product, but by slots money.” This non-racing revenue soon made up the bulk (63.6%) of purses, and total purse money more than doubled. In fact, some tracks derive more than 90% of their purses from SARP. In short, the “partnership” was actually a lifeline for Ontario horseracing, undoubtedly saving many tracks from folding. From the report: “If it is a partnership, it is a very one-sided one. It may work great for the industry – but what’s in it for the public?”
Fighting back, the industry is lobbying with dishonest numbers: Its claim that 60,000 jobs would be lost if racing vanishes is, according to the report, wildly overstated, and besides, the province expects new health care jobs to be created as SARP ends. And as for the over $1 billion the industry says is currently generated by its operations, this new course should actually increase gaming revenue for the government since Ontario has every intention of meeting, even expanding, gambling demand with full service casinos, relocated slots (to higher-traffic areas), and wider availability of lottery products and online gaming. Only this time there will be no 20% handouts to interests that have done nothing to earn them.
Worse, though, is the shameful rhetoric aimed at manipulating the masses. One such article from the Kingston Whig-Standard (5/28/12) begins thus, “The Ontario government could be left with plenty of blood on its hands if it follows through with its plan to remove slot machine funding from horse racing tracks across the province.” The paper then quotes track veterinarian Lynne Blackburn, “The lineup to slaughterhouses will be long.” And John Stapleton, president of the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame, warns (Toronto Star, 3/5/12),“We don’t like to think about what happens to horses that farms can no longer support but allow me to leave that to your imagination.” Never mind that the Canadian Horse-Slaughter business has been humming along just fine to this point, in part, I’m sure, thanks to Ontario racing refuse. Yes, track closures would result in an equine glut, but I would gladly support the euthanasia (not slaughter) of Ontario’s 26,000 horses if it meant that no more would be born into this wretched existence.
The reason the industry is reacting to the spigot shutoff like a heroin addict in rehab is because it knows in its collective heart that it may not survive this. Now, whether or not this is entirely or even mostly due to competition for the gambling dollar is open to debate. But I prefer to believe that an evolving public sensibility plays a part: Faced with the grim realities of doping, fatal breakdowns, and slaughter, there are surely some gamblers who are eschewing horse exploitation, instead choosing inanimate slots and scratch-offs or wagering on consenting NFL athletes. Hopefully, the panel’s conclusion, in a view shared by all 17 track owners, will prove prescient: “Without slots revenue or a new revenue stream, the horse racing industry in Ontario will cease to exist.” Translation: your product on its own is no longer viable. Coddled for so long, I wonder if Woodbine president Nick Eaves can even see his industry’s absurd sense of entitlement when he says (The Blood-Horse, 6/21/12): “It’s something that’s not possible for us, to lose the product line that has allowed us to compete, and be expected as an industry to sustain ourselves on our own.”
Sorry, no sympathy here.
Read Part 2 - Ontario’s Horseracing Subsidy, Part 2.