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January 29, 2013

Ontario government admits to dropping the ball on horse racing

The Ontario Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, Ted McMeekin, has finally come clean to the Ontario horse racing industry that the ministry made a mistake by rushing the decision to end the Slots-at-Racetracks Program (SARP).

Why is this important you might ask?

Let me explain.

Years ago the OLG (Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp.) and the horse races were the only legal ways to gamble in Ontario. Then along came the casino in Niagara Falls and similar locations. Gamblers began to flock to such locations and the Ontario government realized that casinos were extremely popular and profitable, so why not have more of them? So they came up with a scheme wherein they offered to put slot machines at Ontario racetracks, so that gamblers could gamble at the slots 7 days per week and not have to travel that far to find legalized gambling. (The horse races do operate every day of the week, but not all racetracks have daily races. Instead many use tele-theatres for betting so gamblers can bet on races happening in the USA and even overseas in Australia, Japan, Britain, etc.)

Now to get the permission of the horse racing industry to have slots at racetracks, they sweetened the deal by agreeing to give them a share of the profits. Otherwise the horse racing industry would have been taking huge losses by allowing their competition to setup shop and not see a single penny of the profits when some gamblers choose slots over horses.

With time however what has happened is that the demographics of gamblers have changed. The people who bet on horses are typically older, often retirees or pensioners, and they are dwindling in numbers. In contrast the younger generations of gamblers want instant thrills and don't want to wait half an hour for a horse race to start. So as time progressed it eventually reached a point wherein the profits between the horse betting industry and the slots industry was split roughly 20 percent to 80 percent.

So much so that the slots was basically propping up the horse betting industry - and the horse breeding industry as a whole. Without the extra income from gamblers, horse breeders would have to either quit and do something else or they would need to move to a country that still has a robust horse betting industry.

So when Ontario government realized they were basically propping up an industry some idiotic paper-pushing bureaucrat apparently got it into their head that it would save the government a lot of money if they pulled out of slots industry and took all the slots away from the horse races, and effectively shut down both horse betting and horse racing - and horse breeding! - all at once, it was the result of penny-pinching bureaucrats not realizing what they would do to an entire industry.

Basically it would demolish it. Horse breeding isn't just about raising race horses. That is the thoroughbreds. But there is also a market for horses meant for hobbyists, show jumpers, and so forth that would be hurt in the process. If you remove a large chunk of the pie from an industry that is so interconnected it causes the other parts to wither.

So the Ministry of Agriculture began rushing through the whole process in their efforts to shut down both the slots and horse races... with their goal of driving the horse betting industry out of business, and then 1 year later, buying up the old land and reintroducing slot machines - except this time they wouldn't have to share profits any more.

What is more is that they have even admitted to doing this.

While conducting an interview, Agriculture Minister Ted McMeekin admitted his government "dropped the ball" on horse racing and stated that he hoped that the government would be "A little bit more collaborative then we’ve been. And that we’ll listen better than we have. And we will quit trying to wedge issues."

Now to be fair, the horse racing industry is now basically suing the Ontario government for deliberately trying to squash their industry - an industry which in Ontario effects about 55,000 jobs. That is like trying to shut down 3 or 4 automotive plants and not expecting them to protest.

One MPP issued a release on Monday stating that the Ministry of Agriculture "picked an unnecessary battle with the harness racing community and for what? To come back almost a year later and say ‘sorry I was wrong’? If the Minister had sat down, weighed the pros and cons and actually talked to those in the industry then we wouldn’t have had this crisis and he wouldn’t have to issue this mea culpa. [yada yada yada] ... start doing the research and listening to the people."

The bureaucratic decision to try and shut down horse betting/racing needlessly risked over 55,000 jobs in Ontario’s once thriving horse racing industry and alienated many rural communities.

Now we should also note that you can also do horse race betting online, so you technically don't need to go to a horsetrack any more to bet on such things (but its still fun to go if you just want to see the horses and make a few small bets). Such websites are typically for the USA horse betting industry, and also allow greyhound betting, betting on football, sports such as golf, tennis, cricket, rugby, motor sports, soccer, snooker, basketball, baseball, cycling, hockey, cycling, darts and even UFC.

And I suppose that just goes to show you that the USA just loves to gamble a lot.

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