The slots-at-racetracks program won’t be resurrected, Minister of Agriculture Ted McMeekin said Monday, but he’s hopeful there will be a better way forward after the horse racing industry transition panel submits its final report.
McMeekin said that despite the outcry from some equine groups, the slots program (SARP) created a “fractious industry” and it needed to go.
The panel, which released its interim report on Friday, agreed and said any new funding for horse racing would need the accountability and transparency the slots program lacked.
“It’s clear that the SARP program is not going to be reinstated,” he told QP Briefing. “Is there a next-best right answer? Another model that’s viable and stable? That’s been our goal all along. Nobody in this government has been out to crumble the industry; we’ve been out to find a way to make it viable.”
The Ontario Horse Racing Industry Association (OHRIA) released a statement praising the panel’s professionalism and highlighting several of the report’s key recommendations for the industry.
These include a new partnership to keep horse racing as part of the gambling mix in the province and to ensure its future before next season, when thousands of horses might be slaughtered.
The panel recommends the continuation of the Horse Improvement Program and Ontario Sire Stakes programs, “which OHRIA thinks bodes well for buyer confidence at the upcoming horse sales in Ontario,” according to the statement.
OHRIA president Sue Leslie said she looks forward to continuing to work with the panel “to achieve an outcome where the horse racing industry will continue its valuable contribution to Ontario’s economy.”
McMeekin has asked the panel to refocus for its final report and look for solutions that will allow the government to help the industry move forward. He said the OHRIA’s $210 million-per-year ask is actually beyond what SARP provided but “the $50 million isn’t enough. The panel said that and I accept that.”
“We need to find something; we need to work with them to see where we go,” he said, adding that he hopes the panel will present its final report by Sept. 30.
“Then, the government will need to take some political decisions, one way or the other,” said McMeekin.