It was down to the wire, but the horse racing industry is still in the running
Published Friday, March 7, 2014 5:47PM EST
Two years ago, the province pulled over $300 million in funding to the horse racing industry and put thousands out of work, but the industry is getting back on track.
At the time many people thought the horse racing industry would be all but dead by 2014, but instead, it's gotten its second wind.
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne toured the London Farm Show on Friday, and while she didn''t have a funding or partnership announcement, she stressed that racing will go the distance.
"We're on track, we're on pace and I'm very optimistic that we'll have a good race season this season."
Those are words that many thought they'd never hear again after the government ended the slots at racetracks program, cutting off millions in funding.
The industry was in crisis and the government stepped up - with $180 million over three years - still horses and jobs were heading south, the breeding industry reeled from a lack of demand, and some horses were ultimately put down because farmers couldn't feed them.
Then Wynne's government came up with more funding, $400 million over five years, that combined with deals with tracks and the paramutuel betting tax reductions, translates roughly into $230 million a year.
So while the industry still took a loss, it wasn't quite as bad as expected.
Mike Woods, Western Fair's COO, says "There's a sense of optimism from Western Fair's standpoint."
That's because Western Fair is aiming to become a new gambling centre, with horse racing and casino-style gambling better integrated.
"We're also looking for more information on this whole integration piece because that's really going to be another big piece," Woods says.
The stakes are high and many believe profit-sharing between Ontario Lottery and Gaming and the racing industry is the only way horse racing can continue to run.
Wynne says "The OLG integration is happening right now. There are discussions going on right now to figure out how the gaming and horse racing industry can support each other quite frankly."
A decision is expected in coming weeks, but the opposition says this is a case of the Liberals coming up with a Band Aid solution for a problem they ultimately created.
London-Fanshawe NDP MPP Teresa Armstrong says "They made a problem and they're trying as usual to fix their problems, fix their mistakes, they should have thought about it before sideswiping this industry."
Still, Wynne says "We have come a long way in a year, my intention when I came into this job was to restore the horse racing industry and make sure we had a long term plan."
And that's still something she intends to deliver.
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne speaks at the Western Fair in London, Ont. on Friday, March 7, 2014. (Cristina Howorun / CTV London)
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