It is encouraging that the panel is very fact driven, though they are still missing a few pieces of the puzzle which I'll get to later on.
I think a lot of their realizations and conclusions regarding the industry's apathetic attitude towards growing a customer base and that slots revenues were earned without any meaningful earmarks are completely right on the money.
I do take exception with what I believe is a faulty premise, which is being used as the reason why they think the slots program shouldn't be reinstated, and that is that the revenues that went to the industry from slots were public funds (hence a subsidy). They also state that the main reason tracks and horsemen were given 20% was to stabilize the industry. That is only one third of the real reasons. The other two were that slots would cannibalize horse racing (one could argue that because of slots the ability of the industry to attract new Horseplayers over the last 14 years was hindered tremendously as well) and that racetracks would be an acceptable location for slot machines. Referendums on gambling almost always wind up against casinos and the government knew they could smoothly start making money without public uproar by locating slots at tracks. In fact, right now the OLG still believes that tracks are the most acceptable locations for slots as they are negotiating rent deals with many racetracks.
The problem I have with calling these funds public monies is that it is after tax dollars that are being lost by patrons. The OLG even called the money that went to tracks and horsemen "commissions" (see page six here). Much like variety and gas store owners get a commission for selling lottery tickets. Did you know that over $200 million is paid out in commissions to those who sell tickets in Ontario each year? And to throw another curve ball at the panel: Do store owners have prerequisites on how to spend their commissions? Are those dollars received public monies too?
The panel is wrong when stating racing would die out completely if the government sticks to only handing out $50 million over the next three years. Ontario could sustain one thoroughbred track and a couple of harness tracks, whether it is Woodbine, Mohawk, and Western Fair, or if Woodbine decides to exit, Fort Erie, Western Fair and either Rideau Carleton or Flamboro Downs. Wagering, if focused on three tracks would be significant enough to carry three Ontario racetracks, and one would expect to see full fields and lengthy schedules. However, 20-30,000 jobs would be gone, and that is horrible public policy even by the worst
I'm with the panel, $50 million is not nearly enough to give horse racing an opportunity to become self sufficient and save most of the full time jobs.
I think the panel underestimated economic impact because money that goes to horsemen, track employees, etc. go into the local economies and could make the difference whether places like hardware shops and restaurants make a profit or not.
Another thing the panel missed the boat on is that most owners lose money. Less tracks, less horses, less race dates means less owners. Owners do get the majority of purse monies, but by the time they pay the jockey, trainer and vet, they wind up going into their own pocket. This is actually another funding source that the panel overlooked. It is important because much of this mad money might be invested offshore or in investments that have low multiplier effects associated with them. If someone earns 40k a year, all the after tax money is going into the local economy for the most part, but for someone making $150k a year, well that money could get locked into long term investments or again, go outside of Ontario.
Another problem with the report is that it states the SAR program should end, but that another source of subsidy needs to be established, or even a "new" partnership when it comes to sports betting should come about. What makes being a partner in sports betting any different that being a partner is slots? Slots can't be your partner, but a sports book can? Sounds like something Jackie Mason could do a skit about.
And another thing that irks me is that the panel failed to discuss the OLG's plan to privatize going forward and compare it to the SAR program. Are the profits that the new operators going to make "public funds?" Will they have to be accountable to the government regarding these profits? I think not. It appears that public funds will now become casino operator profits. Should this be a major focal point as to whether the slots at racetracks program should end? We obviously cannot trust the government (very faulty, as Dwight Duncan insists there are only 5,000 industry jobs) or OLG numbers, as much as changed since they were put together in March (ie a slam dunk casino in Toronto).
The panel also doesn't realize that the HIP program, the way it is set up now, it detrimental to growing a customer base. Reason being, it is a percentage of the handle currently. It needs to be a percentage of the takeout commission instead. The reason why takeout decreases aren't tested in Ontario is because of the current set up, and in order for horse racing to compete with other forms of gambling and experience customer base growth, takeout rates need to drop, probably significantly.
Unfortunately, although there is a compelling argument to reverse the slots at racetrack program decision, and reimplement it with much needed earmarks, the government is unlikely to reverse things now. The problem right now is that even though there are probably very good legal reasons to go after the government, and some are still being pursued like MPP Lisa McLeod taking the case to the Auditor General, or the Ombudsman's possible recommendations when they come out, the horse racing industry can't afford to wait any longer. The industry needs to work with the government in order to have even a slight chance at transitioning. But getting the industry to work together with the government will most probably more difficult than herding cats in 15 separate locations around the world at the exact same time.
The report that came out should have at least hinted at how many dollars would be needed to sustain the industry. In light of the financial vagueness, I see no point in having the September Sales for either harness or thoroughbreds. The right thing to do is to move the sales to November or December.
Next piece will be on where to go from here.
Check out Pull The Pocket's take on the Interim Report.
Also check out A View From The Grandstand's take.