If Ontario stops sharing slot machine revenue with racetracks and horsemen, tens of thousands of jobs could be put at risk, industry members say.
Brian Tropea, the general manager of the Ontario Harness Horse Association, said the province put slot machines in racetracks at a time when the public was not as fond of gaming facilities.
But now that gaming is a more popular pastime, Tropea said the province is willing to leave the industry in its dust.
"They brought the slot facilities to the racetracks, they’ve got people accustomed to playing slot machines now, gaming is more accepted now than it was 15 years ago," Tropea told reporters during a Wednesday press conference at Queen’s Park.
"And now it’s like they want to kick us to the curb and expand gaming into broader Ontario."
Economist Don Drummond’s recent report recommended that the province re-evaulate the existing agreement on slots, but it did not explicitly call for the province to end the agreement.
But with the province facing major budget challenges, Finance Minister Dwight Duncan has signalled that the government could withdraw the horse racing industry’s $345-million annual share of slot machine revenues.
Tropea said that if that happens, the horse racing industry in Ontario will not survive.
"I can tell you that if the government follows through on this proposal, it will eventually kill our industry," he said.
"Chances are many of us will end up unemployed, or join the exodus from Ontario, not unlike what has happened in the manufacturing industry."
Tropea is among the industry members taking part in a rally at Queen’s Park on Wednesday, in a bid to get the government to drop any thoughts of ending the existing agreement on slot revenues.
He said the solution is for the province to leave the agreement alone, so that horse racing can continue to generate revenue for both the province and those working in the industry.
"If you don’t, I promise you, the decision you make will have a devastating effect, not only on horse racing, but on communities throughout rural Ontario," said Tropea.
Anthony MacDonald, a harness racing driver based in Guelph, was among a group of industry people who gathered on the lawn of Queen's Park on Wednesday.
He said it's wrong for the government to call the money the industry receives from slot machine revenue a subsidy.
"If you didn't spend a dollar at the races or at slot machines ... we didn't get any of your money," he told CBC News. "All these people here race horses and have families. There's no fallback for me, this is what I do."
Ted Mansell, the executive vice-president of the SEIU Local 2, Brewery, General, and Professional Workers' Union, said the horse racing industry is "the second-largest employment creator in the agricultural sector" and is linked to more than 60,000 jobs in Ontario.
With so many jobs on the line, Mansell believes the province must consult "with all industry stakeholders before any changes at all are implemented or further contemplated."