There will be big changes, but not many surprises when responsibility for regulating horse racing in the province transfers to the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) over the next four or five months.
AGCO CEO Jean Major — who was also named the CEO of the Ontario Racing Commission (ORC) in July — provided a clear road map of where Ontario’s horse racing industry was headed when he was the CEO of the ORC from 1995 to 2004. In an hour-long interview with Ontario Horse Racing in early October, Major said his stance hasn’t changed.
“My personal philosophy aligns with the approach that regulators regulate and businesses run their businesses,” Major said. “I’m a regulator. My job is to understand the business, not to run the business… But I will listen to what’s important, what’s critical to it and then decide on a regulatory framework. That I understand. I can apply it and mold it to fit the risks, the conditions and whatever unique factors exist in that particular industry.”
On his first go-round at the ORC, Major spent considerable time and energy focusing the commission to its core function as a body that regulates the sport, protects the public interest and little more.
“I was a bit disappointed in the fact that we got back into the business of racing. But I totally understand why those decisions were made. I’m not second-guessing anybody’s decision to do so, but we had worked hard to try to separate the two,” he said.
It was under Major’s leadership the first time that the ORC spun off management of such industry programs as the $30 million Horse Improvement Program (HIP) to the Ontario Horse Racing Industry Association (OHRIA). That critical racing and breeding incentive program that includes the Thoroughbred Improvement Program (TIP), the Standardbred Improvement Program (SIP) and the Quarter Horse Racing Industry Development Program (QHRIDP), found its way back to the ORC after Major left for the AGCO.
After all the legislative details are worked out at Queen’s Park to transfer the regulatory stewardship of the industry to the AGCO and dissolve the body known as the ORC, “the HIP program will be transferred to OHRIA,” Major said.
Before that can happen, one of Major’s top priorities will be to “make sure OHRIA is properly structured. What I’m looking for is the industry’s help to make OHRIA as representative as possible. My priority is assisting OHRIA in getting on its feet. I can’t get my other things in a row until that’s done.”
Major said the five-year, $500 million in industry funding from the government will be managed by the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG). “Similarly, the race dates and all those issues related to that will be handed over to the OLG,” Major said.
The AGCO will enforce the Rules of Racing, Major said. But he wants to get the regulator out of the business of hearing appeals and establish an arms-length appeals board to hear cases involving fines and suspensions. That is not an indication Major will be soft on those that run afoul of the racing rules. He was responsible for strengthening penalties for infractions when he helped craft the Racing Commission Act of 2000.
“There’s a fundamental change in the approach to regulating. It’s not about a ‘gotcha’ kind of mentality. We’re not hiding in the bushes. Rather, the goal here is to make sure people are complying with the law. Those that don’t are the ones that get most of our attention,” Major said.
As for licensing appeals, subject to changes in the legislation governing horse racing approved by the Ontario Legislature, those decisions will go to an existing provincial body already set up for that function.
“That’s a body that hears appeals from 25 other statutes. In the morning they’ll do a real estate agent that had his license revoked and in the afternoon they’ll do a jockey’s license that got revoked, or a driver,” Major said.
He also wants to establish regulations that hold racetracks accountable for reinvesting in infrastructure.
“At some of the tracks I’m disappointed to see that not much has been done. They had the money for quite some time and what did they do? ‘Can’t you throw a can of paint at this, at least?’… Let’s not repeat those mistakes. I haven’t set my mind as to exactly what I will do, but certainly standards need to be established, but I’m not going to wade into the business standards and tell you how you price your hot dogs and what kind of menus you should have… Standards may be a helpful thing that regulators can help to enforce.”
In essence, Major wants the horse racing industry to manage its own affairs and determine its own destiny, with the AGCO as a guiding hand.
Major said he needs the industry’s help to make it all work. After the legislation is passed, he will be hitting the road in the New Year to speak to people in the industry.
“The merger will be affected by new legislation,” Major said. “The government/Legislature will decide whether to repeal the Racing Commission Act and introduce new legislation dealing with the regulatory powers of the AGCO in regulating horse racing. The government’s working on a bill now. I don’t have exact timelines, but sometime, I’m guessing in the fall, the bill will be introduced and then we go through the normal legislative process of first, second, third reading and so on.
“I don’t think people would object, conceptually, to the idea. It’s less government, more efficiency. The government’s been trying to move toward trying to integrate the business of gaming and racing. It makes sense that you would do the same on the regulatory side. So, the rough timelines, if everything works according to schedule would be April, which is our government’s fiscal year. That’s when the turnover could occur.”
(Re-published with permission from ontariohorseracing.ca)