Today is the final day of the Slots at Racetrack Program (SARP) in Ontario. Many predict with the end of SARP, the industry will collapse. While the province will end the program it has, at least for now, backed down on its plans to consolidate the market to six racetracks in the province as it appears to have offered all tracks the option of continuing to race.
In addition to Mohawk and Woodbine, Fort Erie, Western Fair, Clinton, Hanover, Grand River, Flamboro, Georgian Downs, and now the latest Kawartha Downs have transitional agreements in place. Granted Kawartha Downs, which previously was ready to surrender its license will have its racing program significantly cut from 92 days in 2012 to 25 in 2013, but race they will. That makes at least ten tracks to operate this year with only one breed, the quarter horse, lacking a home track as Ajax Downs has not yet reached an agreement with the OLG(four days of QH racing at Fort Erie is planned).
With all these tracks being approved, it appears the government will not decide which tracks will survive; it will let the market do it and I suspect it will be a combination of purse accounts and the upcoming shortage of Ontario-breds in three years when at present it looks like seven hundred two year olds will be available for racing in 2016.
I will leave it to others to talk about jobs lost and the like. What is the immediate impact at the racetracks this year? Well, as alluded by the reduction of days at Kwartha Downs, there will be less racing days available for horsemen. While horsemen at Woodbine and Western Fair District will continue to race for the same reduced purse levels they already have been on April 1, tracks like Flamboro Downs and Rideau Carleton will be cut 10%-15% initially (when comparing condition sheets to races run last week).
While any purse cut is bemoaned, in the grand scheme of things, what dos a 10-15% cut really mean? Certainly not a doomsday cut which will likely occur when the 'C' tracks reopen. The problem comes when you couple the purse cuts with the reduction in race dates. A 10% cut maybe a shave, but when you consider there will be less days to race, this 10% purse cut will be compounded. Owners and stables which have been operating on the edge will throw the towel in and get out of the business.
So while the impacts on racing looks 'not to be that bad' right now, don't kid yourself. While the sun will come out tomorrow in Ontario, unless the government's promised integration into the province's gaming strategy takes place, the clouds will begin to build until the storm hits.
If what is going on in Ontario makes you feel blue, you have company in Italy where four trotting tracks were forced to close. The Government says the sport is dying while industry participants say it is the government's rules on wagering which are to blame.