Harness racing industry could be wiped out

Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan dropped a bombshell on Monday when he suggested the government might get out of the horse racing industry.

The government has had an agreement with the industry since 1998. The province gives 20% of its revenue from its slots-at-racetracks program to the industry.

Brian Tropea, the general manager of the Ontario Harness Horse Association told me this move would eliminate horse racing in the province, including here in London.

“They’re contemplating a decision that will absolutely devastate, wipe out the industy.”

The racetrack-slots program is a negotiated agreement, worth about $345 million.

“It doesn’t cost the province anything. It’s money that’s directed from revenues they’re generating at the racetracks,” Tropea said.

He said not only will horse racing be eliminated, but with it thousands of other jobs. About 60,000 Ontarians  are employed through the industry, which pays a total of $1.5 billion dollars of wages and salaries each year in Ontario. It is the the second largest sector of the agricultural economy.

“They’re desperate. I don’t think they’ve thought out the economic impact this is going to have on them when horses are sent out of the province, breeding farms are shut down and blacksmiths … and veterinarians are put out of business and farmers can’t sell their feed to the horse industry no longer. This is going to have a huge impact on rural Ontario,” Tropea said.

OHHA is quickly mobilizing to get word out about the importance of the industry. He is encouraging people to contact their MPPs.

The industry is already struggling to show a profit during this stagnated economic period; it certainly can’t sustain itself after losing millions more.

Your thoughts?


24 thoughts on “Harness racing industry could be wiped out

  1. The current government would be committing suicide if they followed through with this action, 60,000 voters earn their living from the industry. If not for horse racing there would be no slot parlors and the jobs that were created. If shove went to push the horsemen could shut 400 series highways down for days at a time creating a mayhem.

  2. Contrary to most peoples views some horsemen actually are a tad bit cultured & listen to CBC radio in the AM, when they heard this they were astonished to say the least. If the Lib Gov cuts the funds back there will be severe repercussions.
    Stay tuned Ms Isle.

  3. Hi Gord,
    CBC in the morning along with training, some great music such as Marley and Springstein in the early afternoon, racing and then catching the hockey highlights. Congrats to your Wings. That’s quite an accomplishment. Hang in and keep us posted.

  4. Government shouldn’t be in the gambling business.

    The argument that horse racing and lottery and slots provide jobs is ridiculous and irrelavent. There are certainly many abhorent activities that also provide jobs (meth labs, crack houses, child exploitation rings, sex workers, people smuggling e.t.c. that also provide jobs but we wouldn’t want our government involved. Why then support gambling: with gambling addiction the bane of broken lives and destroyed families, not to mention all the ancillary predatory underground criminal activities associated with all forms of so-called legal gambling. Our government sponsored and seemingly government-sactioned vehicles for ripping-off the unsuspecting represent a not-so-respectable way to fill government coffers and the expense of those least able to control or afford their addictions to gambling vices.

  5. Welcome back Anyone.
    The government isn’t going to get out of this business because it makes too much money.
    I don’t play the slots but I do enjoy the horse races where it isn’t about gambling for me but testing my knowledge of the horses, drivers, trainers and tracks involved to try to predict the winner.
    The 60,000 jobs are in the horse racing industry alone. It is a legitimate business. Even the Queen of England supports horse racing.

  6. Always a pleasure reading your work.

    However on this topic we might have a difference of opinion.

    I’m not sure how valid the 60,000 employment figure is, and who is providing it. There is a tendency to puff up these figures to suit the interests of the association that benfits from flaunting them. All such numbers are confections produced by analysts who far from being independent are commisioned and paid by the interests at hand to bolster their self-interested argument. The sleight of hand also comes with what is called “the economic impact or multiplier effect” that wildly distorts the actual facts by utilyzing fictituous numerical assumptions that easily can sneak past a sharp reporter’s sense of credulity.

    And…what does the Queen’s tastes have to do with anything? Is the ultimate standard to be that which the Quenn of England supports? Keep in mind that other “royalty” at one time or another supported cock-fighting, bull-fighting, camel racing, dog racing, shark-baiting, tiger and elephant-hunting…dwarf tossing, head pilloring and much more that begs the imagination.

    But, we are not just talking about the ethics of Horse Racing, but more particularly, government involvement in supporting the gambling aspect of Horse Racing. Yes, it is seen as a legitimate industry because it has been selected to be legitimate and is supported as such with public money.

    Above and beyond the question of whether government should be involved in promulgating and enticing the sucker bet of gambling in any fashion…and inadvertantly providing cover to aspects of organized crime, addictive behaviour, petty crimes e.t.c., should government be even involved in any aspect of any private industry. Whether Rhea farming or pit-bull fighting?

    The argument that purports that government is involved in harness racing and lotto because it is making money is equally facetious. Why aren’t there more casinos and betting parlors and other forms of gambling on every corner? Why isn’t there online gambling, cards and sports gambling sponsored by the government as well? And just to underscore the point: anyone can imagine that there are so many more other things that could make the government more money…if it was only about making money.

    No, harness racing is not about the government or the people benefitting, it is rather about a well-financed lobby group with an entrenched monopoly getting a free government hand-out. And unfortunately, there are very few brave politicians every willing to change the status quo.

  7. Thank you Anyone and yes, I guess, we won’t likely reach agreement on this.
    I can tell you that back when the slot parlour opened at Western Fair District the figure of 7,000 employed in the harness racing industry was used at that time (1999). I see the figure coming from the Fair this week is again 7,000. So if there are 7,000 employed in the London region, it is not a stretch to believe 60,000 are employed across the province.
    In fact, there are probably more than 7,000 as it was a well-paying business for a while with the purse money supplemented by the slots. I note the Free Press suggested 65,000 jobs across the province. I stick with about 60,000.
    In terms of believing figures suggested by benefitting associations, I would ask if I should believe govt. is providing cover to organized crime?
    And proof of dwarf-tossing suppored by Royals?
    I added the Queen to my response as I suggest horse racing is a respected occupation and the sport loved around the world. (I can see why for some the Queen’s like or dislike of the sport has no influence, though).
    The government involvement in slot parlours through the OLGC means that it has controls and rules in place to protect the public. It isnt just about making money. There will always be gambling, prostitution, etc. Should prostitution be legalized? Should gambling be illegal?
    It is a matter of the government having some say and some control. Of course, if it can make some money in the meantime, it will. Whether making money this way is palatable to the public is of course up for debate.
    Anyone (above) or anyone else want to weigh in?

  8. As I recall, the 1999 employment figure was from a Western Fair Association-funded study…however there were no verifiable figures provided: i.e. no employment roster, no hard evidence was provided for independent assessment or corroboration. A follow-up interview with authors at the time revealled the figure was an “estimated” figure and included part time and re-hires.

    Sorry, but I did not suggest that the Government is providing cover to organized crime, I stated that any government-funded and sactioned activities of gambling may also give rise to gambling associated criminal activity. This is well-known among sociologists and criminal justice experts.
    Also, self-evident after taking a law-enforcement sponsored research trip to Las Vegas, Atlantic City NJ, Kuala Lumpur and Maccau. Gambling is not victimless, nor is it profitable to government when considering all the expensive enforcement activities and the various associated societal ills.

    Also, caution is in order with universalizing statements such as “racing is a respected occupation and the sport is loved around the world,” perhaps talk to PETA activists.

    The fact, as you said: that controls and rules are needed to protect the public, underscores the obvious: gambling activity is rife with opportunities that victimize society and the public. And there are many, many victims, from the pimped sex-workers inside and outside any casino, to the gambling addict (student blowing tuition, bread-winner blowing child-support, unemployed hoping for a score rather than being hired for those great 60,000 jobs), to the loan sharks, and enforcers, money launderers and assorted parasites.

    As for the sport of Kings…why not polo betting, and yacht-race betting, and fox-hunt betting? Not sure I can illuminate anything more about dwarf-tossing and such details, but I am sure that historians can attest that at some point in the middle ages Royals certainly had a penchant for any number of far more outrageous activity than this.

  9. Now now Kathy and friends – there hasn’t been a “Queen of England”
    for centuries.
    ERII has been on the throne now for 60 years as Queen of Canada,
    Australia and other countries –16 of them?. Look up the titles of this
    post-Empire Commonwealth monarch – the little princess born in 1926,
    the family little-knowing that a brother/uncle would cop out at the last
    minute, projecting father “Bertie” to the Throne in the famous
    Year of three Kings, 1936. And setting up her mother as future long-lived
    much-loved “Queen Mum”/ widow-of George VI.. We all need to sort out
    Great Britain/ the United Kingdom/ and countries England, Scotland, Wales
    and Northern Ireland. Three of four with their Crosses on the Union Jack.
    Last monarch of mere England was ERI, daughter of Henry VIII,wasn’t it ??
    Last Queen of anything relevant was Victoria Regina…Empress of India
    and all that.
    Come on guys, 60 years in the same job, people carping at some rotten
    behaviour by her children, (haven’t most of us suffered throught that?)
    – even the escapades of their silly ex spouses, and never lost her poise
    or influence – even a WW2 war army veteran – not a bad record for a female
    born just after Canadian women got the federal vote. Media have been
    bullying her eldest since he was a just a toddler because they don’t like his
    ears – even looked at the US president’s ? And even some media people?
    What we should be doing is organizing our own RIver Thames Flotilla …

  10. In the meantime…Let’s save all the thousands of horse’s jobs too. What will happen to all the poor horsies? They need our tax dollars to provide them with their hay and oats, comfy paddocks, and help them lead a fulfilling horse life to its full potential pulling small people in buggies on subsidized tracks.

    Neigh, it could be horses running wild.

    Maybe we can direct all the newly unemployed horses to sign up with the Mounties, as a condition to receiving any additional government dole.

  11. M,
    God Save the Queen for sure. She’s done a marvellous job, no doubt.
    I think many Canadians wonder why we still have ties to the monarchy, though.
    Sorry about Queen of England reference. If you do punch in Queen of England to your online search engine, Queen Elizabeth II’s image does come up to confuse things.
    I too, am impressed by her record and as I’m married to a Protestant whose family came from Northern Ireland (my father-in-law was a Protestant minister), our family is more aware of the Queen’s actitivies. Although as a Catholic I can’t help but give him some good ribbing about Northern Ireland and the monarchy’s influence.

    • Type in ‘2 plus 2’ and get over 80 million ‘makes 5’, a lesson all school children should be taught the first day they use a computer. Being online does not make it true.
      One needs to look first at the source of the statement. Roman Catholicism and throne eligibility has not been sorted out despite much bloodshed in the past – but what is the likelihood of possible inheritors of the monarch being of that denomination or an other religion these days?
      Fortunately gender is no longer a barrier – good thing considering some of the most impressive Monarchs have females, no male to block them. And ERII’s activities are interesting sometimes, but it is a monarch’s role in our form of government that counts.
      -As for many Canadians wondering why we still have ties to the Monarchy – blame that on their parents, teachers and media. It is foundational to our system. The country has now untied all apron strings, peacefully not with bullets, but have chosen to have him/her as Head of State, Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces – and the continuity that when one dies, the other
      immediately takes his/her place. No upheavel. – And remember we don’t pay their bills, the Brits
      do except when we invite them here as guests. We do fund her federal and provincial stand-ins.
      GG and Lt.Gs.
      If people want to discuss changing the governance of this country, they need to find out what would legally/constitutionally be required, and what they propose could replace it. Have no
      interest in this as casual chat. Consider the method, instability and ill will of the United States way of choosing its Head of State and Commander in Chief of armed forces. Want that every 4 years?
      Any the present monarch and her mum are famed for their love and knowledge of horses and
      racing, and if the PoW in 1936 had done his duty, would likely have been quiet country ladies
      surrounded by dogs, horses etc.
      Have an image of the Abdication document if your postwar friends would be interested. Can
      attach for you in a private email.

  12. Sure M, please send the document.
    I have read several books lately about the murder of multi-millionaire Harry Oakes who gained all of his riches from his Kirkland Lake goldmine and then moved to the Bahamas to avoid taxes. There he became friends with the Duke of Windsor and because of that there is some suggestion the Duke may have been involved in his demise. Duke tried to quash any communication from the island after the body was found so press wouldn’t get wind of the murder right away.
    Also suggestion in a couple of these books that the Duke regretted abdicating.
    Murder has remained unsolved.

    • Monarchy is not about the Duke of Windsor, briefly King Edward VIII,
      It reorganized itself and went around this popular PoW who let down
      the Empire which had loved him (he even bought a ranch here, in
      Alberta) —giving us a fine King and wife-of to see us through the
      upcoming war.
      Windsor and wife were just loose cannons like Diana and Fergie,
      once they stopped doing their part for the Monarchy.
      Do Remember the Oakes. Check onlineunder “Harry and Eunice”.
      Born in the States,lived here for a decade, then moved to Bahamas.
      Lots of opportunity for media chew on, and writers to make money on.
      Queen Mum is reported to have hated him for what he did to her
      husband by quitting, and they were not received by her daughter.
      Dead and gone, still making trouble.

  13. Back to the issue of subsidized Harness racing….

    I’d like to know why the government doesn’t also subside ALL forms of horse racing (mounted jockey, chariot, Clysdale, Shetland pony).

    And while we’re at it, why doesn’t it subsidize all forms of other types of racing: cars, bikes, buses, dogs, dolphins, e.t.c, e.t.c.

    If the government wants to create a profitable betting industry, it would seem to me that the sky’s the limit. Throw money at anything under the pretense that one is creating jobs, and crony capitalism and lobby groups can hit the jackpot.

    I’m still curious: if the profits from lotto and casinos are going to pay for harness racing…then where do the profits from harness racing go?

    I doubt, no matter what the Harness Racing Industry propoganda would have one believe, that there is not a ton of money being made up and down the line. So, why not let this industry pay for itself and pay its fair share in taxes like everyone else. Clearly this business is run to make money. It certainly is not a charitable organization nor would it ever qualify as a ‘non-profit’ by any stretch of the imagination.

  14. Anyone,
    The government became a competitor of the horseracing industry when it decided to get into the slot game. Knowing that slots would take money away from the industry, the government reached a deal to give the tracks that house the slots and the competitors a portion of the revenue.
    You could think of it as paying rent for being there.
    The industry also came to the table with facts and figures on the importance of the industry to rural Ontario and its economic spinoff there.

  15. Maybe then the solution would be for the Government to stop being a competitor to the private sector. Let Business take care of business and leave the governing and regulatig sphere to be the only concern of the Legislators and the sole job of our Government.

    Do we we want a Communist or Totalitarian society where government slides into any business to compete against or takeover private enterprise? The current trend on the world macro-economic stage is for Government to divest, to privatize, to exit government-run monopolies not to create, interfere in them and sustain them at tax-payer expense.

    Governments are selling highways, airports, sea ports, telecom and steel so why why do we need our government to be in the betting business. Las Vegas doesn’t take a cent of government money. Other horse tracks worlwide mange to sustain themselves without government takeover and largess. What’s wrong with our country that nothing is done without a government handout. Why do we look for government to insert itself in areas that are clearly the domain of private enterprise.

  16. I’d even go one step further than that: Why not legalize all online gambling? Why not open up gaming and wagering to the wider private sector and encourage the development of an array of various ‘bricks n’mortar’ and ‘virtual’ private operators much in the same way that city and provincial governments throw around tax-incentives for other business, industry and tourism? Of course government would still tax, regulate and act as watchdog…as well as pick up the tab for addiction and related downside….but, hey, there’s a potential downside to everything government does.

  17. You may be right.

    Some may herald this as the ideal: play away anytime in your own home; no interruptions due to casino labour strife; no weather adversity; not having to deal with crowds, smokers, barmaids, bouncers etc.

    However, I think that the forces that oppose ‘any’ gambling will surely oppose ‘all’ gambling and therefore online gambling too would not be an exception.

    Even those who favour some forms of gambling may not necessarily represent a burgeoning demand for additional wagering, and in turn may not be willing to accept societal level changes that would surely need to be instituted in order to make online wagering possible.

    There are significant issues that currently exist in the realm of online gambling and many problems that will surely need to be considered and overcome. But even before public debate, opposition, referendum, political activity there are assorted questions:

    Is there a major demand, market acceptance to justify these new costs?
    What about ever-fickle consumer tastes, preferences and trends?
    What else would compete for the gambling dollar?
    What kinds of technologies, features and functions would be popular?
    Under whose jurisdiction: National, Local, Provincial, International government, or independent private association/board or corporate entity?
    Who would promulgate the rules and regulations?
    Who would hold ultimate decision power to expand or shut down operations?
    Will there be, or even, should there be, taxation of winnings?
    Should there or would there be sharing of profits? (Who decides?)
    What would be required as far as patron ID—therefore little to no assurance of privacy, and therefore the existence of a record could prove embarrassing to many.
    Would gambling be limited to only those of a verified age limit?
    How about a verified National Identity Card…to encourage or limit international participation?
    But, if there is open-borders participation, then what about: sovereignty, exchange rates, repatriation of winnings, fear of expropriation of winnings. In what jurisdiction would legal issues be heard if person-to-person, or government-to-government disagreement?

    Also, in our internet age, how to deal with:
    Shady operators in foreign unregulated jurisdictions
    False Assurance of payout capability through technological manipulation
    What recourse and sanctions against those ignoring rules and policy
    How to create security walls around operator’s assets and patron’s financial instruments (credit worthiness and credit integrity of any party…i.e. two-way credit checks)
    Fraud (detection and prevention)
    Tracing criminal assets (money laundering)
    Any number of social costs

    My head is beginning to spin…

    As I think about these issues though it becomes abundantly clear that similar questions need to be asked of all OLG plans and policies both currently emerging and already in place.

    While I’m on a riff… Do you and readers here think there will be online voting before or after online gambling? What would you trust more?

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