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Sue Leslie is the owner and head trainer of Sue Leslie Stables at Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto. (Peter Power/The Globe and Mail/Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)
Sue Leslie is the owner and head trainer of Sue Leslie Stables at Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto. (Peter Power/The Globe and Mail/Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)

Business

Duncan's comments anger horse-racing executive Add to ...

Sue Leslie, president of the Ontario Horse Racing Industry Association, is incensed by Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan’s comment that the provincial government’s Slots at Racetrack program took “money that should go to Ontario schools and hospitals and gave it to … wealthy people.”

The government recently announced termination of a 14-year-old agreement with 17 Ontario tracks that directs about $345-million a year to the harness and thoroughbred industries. The deal – designed originally to compensate tracks for lost wagering revenue because of the installation of slot machines – is to end in March of 2013, but three tracks have already been closed down.

Currently, 75 per cent of the slots revenue from the tracks goes to the provincial government; 5 per cent to the municipality where the machines are located, and 20 per cent to the horse-racing industry. Of the industry’s 20 per cent, about half goes to the tracks and half to the breeders, primarily through purses.

On Friday, Leslie said the slots program actually contributes $1-billion annually to the government, and argued that the $345-million payment to the industry comes from commissions earned on horse wagering and slots, and from fees paid by breeders to race their horses, rather than from tax dollars.

On Thursday, American equine breeder Joe Thomson had compared the Ontario government’s cancellation of the Slots at Racetracks program to a famously failed Ponzi scheme.

“We’ve got a terrific investment involved and the government did something very much like Bernie Madoff,” Thomson told the Guelph Mercury. “They put the framework in place and then they pulled the rug out from under you and changed the deal midstream without giving people a chance to get their investments back.”

In a letter to the editor, Duncan replied that Thomson has profited handsomely from the program funded by Ontario taxpayers. He called the comparison to the Madoff Ponzi scheme “ridiculous.”

Thomson said the government should support existing business – “don’t go find new customers at the expense of your old customers.”

Duncan wrote that “history is littered with businesses that failed to address changes to the economy and technology,” thus casting horse racing in that light, according to Leslie’s interpretation.

She replied: “Significant investment in Ontario has created a world-class horse-racing industry that is supported by the most advanced technology available for broadcast media, Internet gambling and state of the art E-commerce platforms. … Our industry has developed, and uses technology comparable to the requirements of the Canadian banking sector.”

The horse-racing industry believes that the government’s termination of the slots payment will cause significant withdrawal of investment.

Leslie objected “vehemently” to Duncan’s characterization of Thomson as a “wealthy U.S. investor” in his letter. She said that horse racing, like other industries in the province, needs and benefits from international investment.

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