Standardbred horse breeders sue OLG for $65M over cancellation of slots revenue-sharing program

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Ontario’s premier and finance minister are keeping mum after standardbred horse breeders slapped the government’s gaming arm with a $65-million lawsuit following a shakeup of their industry that pulled their share of slot machine revenues.

More than 35 standardbred horse breeders across the province are suing the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. (OLG), seeking $65 million in damages for the way the racetrack slots revenue-sharing program was cancelled.

The notice of action was filed in a Guelph, Ont., court Monday.

The OLG said Tuesday it had not yet been served with the notice.

Spokespeople for both Kathleen Wynne and Charles Sousa said they declined to comment because the matter was before the courts.

The lawsuit is a response to how the Ontario government and OLG treated standardbred breeders over the last two years, said Walter Parkinson, president of the Standardbred Breeders of Ontario Association.

"A great deal of harm has been forced upon standardbred breeders in the province as well as their employees and their communities."

The province paid more than $80 million to racetrack owners but refused to provide fair compensation to breeders, Parkinson said.

"(The lawsuit) is certainly not a step standardbred breeders wanted to take and we tried very hard to avoid it."

In March 2012, then-finance minister Dwight Duncan announced the province was ending the slots-at-racetracks revenue-sharing program, which provided the horse racing industry with a 20% cut of slots money – $345 million in the year before the agreement ended.

The decision left horse breeders reeling and sent the price of yearlings falling.

Before the end of the slots program, the horse-racing industry generated $2 billion in economic spinoffs for Ontario, employed about 55,000 people and had 17 racetracks in the province.

Now 11 racetracks are left, and the industry estimates it lost more than 9,000 jobs and 3,000 horse owners have left the industry, taking more than $1-billion in investment with them.

The statement of claim says in October 2011, both the OLG and the province, through the Ontario Racing Commission, represented to standardbred horse breeders that the revenue-sharing program would continue on a long-term basis, despite the parties knowing otherwise.

Only a few months later, OLG and the province announced the termination of the program.

Wynne has since said she thinks the decision of her predecessor, Dalton McGuinty, was wrong.

OLG has yet to file a statement of defence.

The allegations in the statement of claim haven’t been proven in court.

— With file from Barbara Simpson