End of racetrack slots to create new jobs, report says

The $345 million from the Slots at Racetracks Program will be reallocated to create jobs and economic growth to Ontario's health and education industries, according to a government report.

Up to 6,700 health and education jobs

The provincial government doesn't believe pulling slots from racetracks will kill Ontario’s horse-racing industry, but instead create jobs in other sectors. (CBC)

Ontario's decision to end the Slots at Racetracks Program will have a positive impact in other sectors, according to the province.

The annual $345 million spent on the program will be reallocated to create jobs and economic growth in Ontario’s health and education industries, according to government documents obtained by a citizen's freedom of information request and released last week by some PC MPPs.

But Windsor Regional Hospital CEO David Musyj said that's not true.

"It's not going to create jobs. It will hopefully sustain jobs in health care," he said. "Locally, for sure, there is no plan on any type of massive hiring in health care."

Musyj said the health care sector is witnessing wage and benefit increases, as much as 70 per cent of Ontario's total health care budget.

"If everyone just got a one-per-cent increase to their wages in health care, which would probably very minimal right now, there goes the money from the racetracks," said Musyj.

The "confidential advice to cabinet" said removing the slots would cost up to 5,800 jobs annually in the horse racing industry and reduce Ontario’s gross domestic product between $200 million and $400 million each year.

Essex County horse owner Mark Williams said it doesn't make sense.

"If you put 30,000 of us out of work how can I help pay taxes for the health care system," said Williams.

Williams is hoping raceway officials can reach a deal with Ontario Lottery and Gaming by the Aug. 31 deadline to keep racing going.

It would also potentially close 11 of the 17 racetracks in Ontario.

But the government thinks these losses are justified because it says it will create between 5,700 to 6,700 jobs in the health-care sector every year and boost Ontario’s GDP by up to $380 million annually. The report claims jobs will be created in nursing and residential care facilities.

Horse racing industry no longer viable

Ontario Finance Minister and Windsor-West MPP Dwight Duncan said this is the only viable option.

"We are in difficult fiscal times and we cannot afford to subsidize an industry to the tune of $365 million a year when we have vital needs in health and education," said Duncan.

Duncan defends the province's decision by saying the ball is already rolling and the province can no longer afford to subsidize the $365 million horse racing industry.

"We've already seen thousands of new health care jobs here in Windsor and across the province. We have a medical school and we just increased funding for home care by 4.4 per cent," said Duncan.

Nursing student Serena Phipps said she's onboard with more health care jobs.

"I'm very excited about that. It couldn't have happened at a better time. Now that my friends and I are all hitting the job market, it's good to know that there will be something out there for us hopefully," said Phipps.

Officials quoted in the report said they don’t believe pulling slots from racetracks will kill Ontario’s horse-racing industry.

More than $3.7 billion has been pumped into the province’s horse-racing industry since 1998.

According to the report, the industry can survive on its own without support from the government, as it did prior to the introduction of the slots program.