Impact of slots cancellation hitting horse-racing industry hard
Published Friday, August 16, 2013 6:24PM EDT
Just 18 months after the Ontario government cancelled the Slots at Racetracks program, about 9,000 have lost their jobs, and the ripple effect is still not over according to a new report.
Many farmers are now on the brink of bankruptcy and according to an Ontario Horse Racing Industry Association report, about a billion dollars’ worth of investment has left the province.
The once busy Selby Farms is nearly empty now, and fourth generation trainer and driver Brittany Kennedy says the industry has never been this bad.
“This time last year we would've had seven or eight horses racing or of racing age, training, this year we only have three racing…It’s just constant uncertainty. Every morning you wake up and you check the Internet, waiting for some sort of news, anything.”
The Slots at Racetrack program fed hundreds of millions of dollars into the once 60,000 person strong horse-racing industry.
Now that it’s over, about 15 per cent of workers in the industry have lost their jobs.
Jason Libby isn’t surprised, “Now that the race dates have been cut in half, money has been cut in half, people are just getting rid of their horses - to Mennonites, euthanasia.”
Seven years ago Libby made a $1.6 million investment in a training ground, Libby Stables. Three years ago there was a waiting list to board horses there, but now the 26 stall barn is less than half full.
According to the new report, 3,000 horses or nearly a billion dollars’ worth of investment, have left Ontario mostly going to the U.S.
Libby now uses his facility to store two of his own horses, at considerable cost and no profit, “and this is what we're left with, an empty barn.”
He says if things don’t change quickly he won’t be able to stay open, “I can see that I’ll be going bankrupt and it’s scary.”
The government has committed $180 million in transitional funding over three years to help the industry deal with this policy shift, but those in the know say it’s not enough to keep the industry afloat.
The government set up a transition advisory team to develop a solution and their report is expected in October, but a lot of damage has already been done.
Kennedy says “It’s terrifying. It’s basically like a war scene right now.”
Libby adds “Maybe we should've better advertised ourselves and maybe we should've spent our money more wisely, but we never did anything wrong. And the government just ended the deal.”
The industry is trying to draw new fans to the sport. Western Fair is hosting trot races this October and Libby is considering going even further into debt and converting part of the farm into a riding - not racing - arena.
But new ventures require more money, and that’s in short supply.