Ontario Horse Racing Industry Association president, Sue Leslie, was Norm Borg’s guest, on November 1st, for a special edition podcast of At the Gate, Racing at the Crossroads. Leslie expressed her thoughts and concerns on the recent release of the Horse Racing Industry Transition Panel’s final report.

First and foremost, regarding the Sustainable Horse Racing Model, Leslie said, “I want it clearly understood by the industry that this is a model that the Panel are recommending. This isn’t an OHRIA model, this isn’t an OHRIA plan. This is a model that the OMAFRA Panel has come up with to begin negotiations with.”

With cautious optimism, Leslie outlined the positive points of the report. “From the Panel’s point of view, they have accomplished three things on behalf of the industry,” she said. “They have identified that the industry cannot survive on pari-mutuel wagering. When this thing started out, the government thought we would shrink, but they thought we could have a robust horse racing industry based just on pari-mutuel. In their report, they say that no jurisdiction they checked into operated horse racing based on pari-mutuel alone.”

She continued, “Point two, the government was totally unwilling to sit down with the horse racing industry and negotiate. The Panel now has agreement from the government to sit in a room with horse racing and negotiate.

“The third thing is, the Panel was given $50 million over three years to transition the industry. The Panel is now telling us that they have secured a substantial amount of money – granted we don’t know what they number is – but they say they have secured a substantial amount of money that will finance the model they are proposing.” But, she pointed out, “This doesn’t mean we agree with the model.”

Leslie concluded, “So, we’ve gone from having absolutely nothing, and no credibility to having credibility, to having the ability now to negotiate and having what they tell us is enough money to sustain our industry.

“The only way for us to know now, is now to get into the room in good faith with the government and try to negotiate. And that is either going to mean there is rapid progress or there isn’t. We don’t have any more time. Race dates have to be decided over the next month.”

Leslie noted that “until racetracks commit to whether they are going to race or not, how can you say who should have what dates? We don’t know, because of the OLG’s lack of cooperation, who is going to have slots and who isn’t. We don’t know who might operate slots and who won’t. We don’t know who might get table games or who won’t. And because of all those unknowns, we don’t know what racetracks are going to say they want to race.

“OHRIA has no ability to force a racetrack to close a slot or open a slot, or run a live race, or not run a live race.”

With the upcoming provincial election, Leslie said there is hope that the NDP and the PC parties will be more amenable to negotiating with the horse racing industry, should either party come into power, but warned, “To be very clear, despite many meetings with both of those opposition parties, neither leader has come forward and said they are interested in reinstating the slots at races program.”