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Government signs funding agreement with Woodbine

Province says it is one step closer to a sustainable horse racing industry

Ontario has reached an agreement with Woodbine Entertainment Group (WEG), a deal that will ensure racing continues at the Woodbine and Mohawk tracks as the horse racing industry transitions to a new, more sustainable model.

According to a statement released Wednesday (Jan. 23) afternoon by the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, the agreement in principle includes transition funding to the province’s largest provider of horse racing. Agreements with additional racetrack owners are expected to be reached soon.

“This agreement points to a renewed future for horse racing in Ontario,” said Ted McMeekin, Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs and Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale MPP. “We look forward to working with additional racetracks towards the further development of a new model for a sustainable industry.”

Last March, the Liberal government announced it would put an end to the Slots at Racetracks Program, effective March 31, 2013, after it gave the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) the green light to modernize gaming across the province. The profit-sharing agreement, between racetrack operators and the OLG, saw 10 per cent of slot revenues boost the horse racing industry, while another 10 per cent went to track operators. Horsemen used its share of the slot revenues to fund purse pools and make significant agricultural investments.

A transition panel, struck in June by the Minister of Agriculture to consult with horse racing industry stakeholders, recommended the government implement a new model to ensure the horse racing industry’s viability beyond March 31. The panel’s proposal called for fewer race days at fewer tracks across the province. Funding to help transition the industry would also be allocated, however the amount of funding available was never disclosed.

Since submitting its final report to the Ministry, the transition panel has worked to facilitate negotiations between track owners and the OLG. The agreement with WEG, announced Wednesday, is the first of many the government expects to make in the coming weeks.

“The transition funding provides much needed stability for the industry. We are pleased with the government’s commitment to ensure the long-term viability of horse racing and breeding, which has a proud heritage in Ontario. We look forward to working in partnership with government as we discuss the long-term future of a sustainable horse racing industry,” said Nick Eaves, Woodbine Entertainment Group’s chief executive officer.

However, the agreement in principal only ensure the continuation of live horse racing at Woodbine and Mohawk Racetracks for two years, reads a release issued by Woodbine Entertainment Group.

“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,” said Jim Lawson, chairman of the WEG board of directors.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, tracks must meet certain accountability and transparency requirements in order to receive transition funding from the province.

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