If Ontario’s provincial government does not reverse its position ending the slots at provincial racetracks, this year’s 153rd running of the famed Queen’s Plate could be the last.
That announcement was made at Thursday’s Plate draw by Nick Eaves, president and CEO of Woodbine Entertainment, the owners of the racetrack and the race itself.
He added that since revenues would plummet by 50 per cent, not only the big race would go, but likely all racing.
“If we don’t have an operating model to take us past the first of April 2013 then I can’t see a way for us to operate and if we’re not operating there won’t be a Queen’s Plate,” said Eaves, in a scrum after the draw ended.
Asked if Woodbine was using its most famous asset to force the provincial Liberals by threat to change their minds, Eaves said no.
“It shouldn’t be interpreted as a threat. It should be interpreted as a realistic outcome in the event a program that has worked as successfully as it has isn’t replaced with something that can support racing in the context of an overall gaming strategy.”
The slots and tracks revenue sharing program was begun 14 years ago at 17 Ontario racetracks, injecting needed funds into an industry horse people say employs up to 60,000 people.
Premier Dalton McGuinty announced earlier this year that the slots would be ended by March 13 of 2013 as the government reworked its casino and gaming strategy to include many more outlets and a possible Toronto casino.
Only slot machines are available at tracks.
A number of race courses, including those in Windsor and Fort Erie, immediately said they would not be able to operate without the revenue sharing scheme. Fort Erie has announced it will close on Dec. 31. Slots there, and at Sarnia, have already been removed.
Woodbine Entertainment owns the Woodbine Race Track and Mohawk race track at Cambellville.
Roger Attfield, the Hall of Fame trainer and co-record holder with eight Queen’s Plate wins, was direct in his assessment of what the provincial government’s plans will do to his business.
“It’s very upsetting, but more upsetting there won’t be any racing, forget about the Queen’s Plate,” he said, adding the job loss just around his barns would be large.
“You’ve got to think about the 35 people I employ, as well as my own occupation – I’d obviously have to leave,” he said, while around him about 50 employees of the track worked on the Plate Draw breakfast.
“All the people who work for me are going to have a very difficult time finding jobs because outside of these gates of Woodbine, they only know the one thing [horses]. And they won’t get jobs on farms, because most of the farms will be going broke.”
Attfield said the government’s move would be “totally devastating to our whole economy, it’s just the craziest thing I’ve ever heard.”