Horse industry critical of government's exit strategy

The province said it will help people in the horse industry if they lose their jobs as a result of of budget cuts and changes to OLG policy.

A leader in Ontario's horse racing industry says he's not interested in the government's exit strategy for those who may lose their jobs in the industry.

Finance Minister Dwight Duncan said the government will set up a new jobs and growth task force to help the industry transition into something else.

He said it will help those who lose their jobs once the government ends a slot machine revenue-sharing deal next year.

Brian Tropea is general manager of the Ontario Harness Horse Association and isn't impressed.

"The majority of the people in the industry have everything that they've ever earned in their life invested into the horse race business. And those investments are going to be worthless," he said. "It's great that they say we're going to re-train you and you can go out and get a job, but most of those people worked their entire life to get established in the racing business and now they are going to have to start out at ground zero again.

The Ontario horse racing association is organizing a series of rallies in Liberal MPPs' ridings on Friday afternoon.

Those in the industry expect massive job losses once the government ends a slot machine revenue-sharing deal next year. Slots will be removed from tracks in Windsor, Sarnia and Fort Erie next month but the sharing will continue until 2013.

Duncan promised help for those in the industry.

"We'll be looking at how we help the industry transition," he said. "We're appointing a new jobs and growth task force, who did a lot of work with tobacco farmers, for instance, in the last decade. The market cannot support 17 racetracks."

Duncan said, for example, Caesars Windsor and Windsor Raceway are in direct competition with one another.

Duncan predicted several tracks will have to close, leaving a more sustainable five or six.

Those in the horse racing industry have said for months their industry employs more than 60,000 people either directly or indirectly.

Duncan said that number is "grossly exaggerated," and "nobody" buys that number.