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Ontario standardbred breeders suing OLG for $65M

A group of Ontario standardbred horse breeders are suing the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation for $65 million over the cancellation of the slots at racetracks program.
A standard bred racing driver is silhouetted while practicing at Flamboro Downs. Thirty-five breeders have launched a $65-million lawsuit against OLG. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

A group of Ontario standardbred horse breeders are suing the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation for $65 million over the cancellation of the Slots at Racetracks program.

Thirty-five breeders from across Ontario filed a notice of claim in Guelph, Ont. on Monday. The group wants compensation for damages it says it incurred after the province cancelled the program, which saw the horse racing industry share slot revenue at racetracks such as Flamboro Downs.

“We have worked for two years trying to come to a solution that works for both sides,” said Walter Parkinson, president of the Standardbred Breeders of Ontario Association and manager of Seelster Farms of Lucan, Ont., which is one of the parties. “Unfortunately, to date we have none.”

The province has given racetrack owners more than $80 million in compensation, but has given breeders nothing, the association website says.

The province announced the program’s cancellation in 2012, and the program ended last year. A three-member government panel established after the announcement said it found no examples of a viable horse racing industry without some form of public support. But it stopped short of recommending the province keep the program, which brought in about $345 million per year for racetracks.

The OLG has since launched a “modernization” program inviting gaming operators to bid to offer gaming in various zones. It issued a request for expressions of interest for the Hamilton zone in December. The call also included Mohawk Racetrack in Milton, Grand River Raceway in Elora and Casino Brantford.

The notice of claim asks for $60 million for “negligence and/or intentional misrepresentation, breach of contract and unjust enrichment,” and $5 million in punitive damages.

The plaintiffs are from across Ontario, including Hamilton-area breeder James Carr.

The OLG hasn't been served with the notice of claim yet, spokesperson Tony Bitonti said in an email.

"OLG will respond to the allegations after the claim has been served and we have the opportunity to review the allegations in detail," he said.

But "it's important to note (that) the standardbred horse breeders are part of the horse racing industry which received $3.4 billion over 10 years from the Slots at Racetrack program."

In October, Premier Kathleen Wynne announced $400 million over five years to help the industry transition. 

Wynne has "accepted that the decision to cancel the slots at racetracks program wasn't properly done, and that we need to work with the industry to give them a sustainable and long-term path forward," spokesperson Mark Cripps said.

The $400 million was recommended by the Horse Racing Industry Transition Panel. 

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