JOHN ROBBINS/Bullet News
The Ontario government has struck transition funding deals with two Ontario horse racing tracks, with additional agreements to be announced in the coming weeks.
The agreements, announced by the province Wednesday afternoon, will ensure a continuation of racing at Woodbine and Mohawk race tracks.
The amount of funding the tracks will receive was not part of the announcement.
In order to receive transition funding, racetracks have to meet accountability and transparency requirements.
Providing a number of racetracks with transition funding is part of the government’s horse racing industry transition plan, which includes:
- continuing the Horse Improvement Program;
- providing animal welfare supports;
- transferring responsibility for the Ontario Racing Commission (ORC) to the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.
So far, 10 race tracks have reached lease agreements in principle with Ontario Lottery and Gaming for its slots facilities. Additional agreements with tracks are to be announced in the coming weeks.
The Ontario Racing Commission will work with race tracks to provide a revised 2013 racing calendar as agreements are finalized, provincial officials say.
Woodbine is one of two thoroughbred race tracks in Ontario. The other – Fort Erie Race Track – is still awaiting word on its application for transition funding.
Jim Thibert, chief executive officer of the Fort Erie Live Racing Consortium, said in a recent interview he expects the government will announce agreements with tracks with the earliest starting dates for racing season first. Tracks such as Fort Erie that typically start in May will likely have to wait a little longer to receive word of what if anything they can expect from the province.
The future of the Fort Erie Race Track and the entire industry was thrown into jeopardy last spring when the province announced the cancellation of the slots-at-racetracks revenue sharing system, which had been helping to fund racing operations since the late 1990s.
As a result of pressure from the industry, public and opposition New Democrats, the province later appointed a transition panel to chart a course for the industry and to determine how to fund the industry during a period of transition to a self-supporting model.
The Fort Erie Race Track is one of the largest employers in that town and an important part of the municipalities history and culture.
Local politicians say the permanent closure of the race track would have a devastating impact on the town and its economy.