Horses come down the home stretch of a race at the Fort Erie Race Track.
Credits: MIKE DIBATTISTA /NIAGARA FALLS REVIEW/QMI AGENCY
TORONTO -- Ontario is only willing to bet as much on horse racing as it believes the industry can generate in tax revenue, Agriculture Minister Ted McMeekin said Wednesday.
“Any money that is invested in supporting the horse racing industry (should) be returned to the taxpayers of Ontario, with some guarantees of equal revenue coming back to the government,” McMeekin said.
“One of the guiding principles that we have in place is that a viable, healthy and sustainable industry is one that can stand on its own four feet.”
A hand-picked panel of former cabinet ministers from across the political spectrum is now holding talks with the industry on how much public support horse racing will receive, after the province decided to end the Slots at Racetrack Program.
Established in 1998, SARP has delivered more than $3 billion to horse racing, money the deficit-wracked provincial government decided it wanted to claw back in February.
The industry pushed back, arguing it employed 60,000 people and generated more than $1 billion in economic activity. A three-year, $50-million transition program the government offered for when SARP ends in March 2013 was rejected as inadequate.
McMeekin said he acknowledged the $50 million wasn’t enough but both he and the panel have declined to release their estimate of what the government can afford to provide, pending talks.
A source familiar with the issue said the panel has given the government a figure and is heading into discussions with the goal of making that figure the end point and not the starting point of the talks.
McMeekin said SARP, which the panel criticized as “poor public policy” for handing public money to the racing industry with no benchmarks or accountability measures, needed to go, but he declined to comment on whether the finance ministry moved too quickly to kill it without consulting first with race tracks and horse owners.