by SUSAN MANN
An association representing the province’s harness horse owners and workers is disappointed the Ontario ombudsman won’t investigate the government’s decision to end the slot revenue sharing program.
Brian Tropea, general manager of the Ontario Harness Horse Association, says “we were hoping they were going to investigate. There’s reason to believe there are some questionable decisions being made throughout the gaming modernization.” Tropea says his association was one of the groups that filed a complaint with the ombudsman.
Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin announced Tuesday his office received more than 350 complaints. The high volume of complaints and the serious concerns complainants raised prompted him to “assign a team of investigators to conduct an in depth assessment of the complaints and issues.”
But in a letter to all those who expressed concerns, Marin says the government’s decision “was a matter of broad public policy, and not the type of decision that would normally be subject to scrutiny by the ombudsman.” He did acknowledge, though, that the government’s decision last March to end the slot revenue sharing program, called Slots at Racetracks, has created enormous uncertainly in the horse racing industry.
Under the slot revenue sharing program ending March 31, 10 per cent of the money went to increasing horse racing purses, a further 10 per cent went to the tracks, five per cent went to the municipality where the track is located and 75 per cent went to the Ontario government. With the new program, slots will be at tracks but tracks will just receive money through lease agreements.
Tropea says there still may be an opportunity to have the government’s decision independently reviewed. Last August a motion proposed by Progressive Conservative MPP Lisa MacLeod (Nepean-Carleton) was passed at Queen’s Park requesting the auditor general review the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation’s gaming modernization plans.
In another development, a motion proposed by New Democratic Party MPP Taras Natyshak (Essex) requests that changes to the Slots at Racetracks program be frozen until after municipal elections next year to give municipalities time to hold referendums on election ballots on whether they want to host casinos. Tropea says that motion is to be debated at Queen’s Park later this month. BF