Current Horse Racing Issues continued

We in the standardbred side of the industry have been steadfastly private-sector through all of our history and we have argued for minimal government involvement. But central authority can give this diverse industry both cohesion and direction at no cost to taxpayers. That is the public-private model we seek.

Consultation

It should be understood that the BC Racing Commission cost government nothing. The entire budget was covered by pari-mutuel revenues. We don't understand how shifting all of the responsibilities of this Commission to the public civil service payroll assists in reducing the size of government.

And something important is lost. The racing commission - local and available - was inextricably linked to consultative processes with the industry. It now appears as if all responsibility is with Victoria-based public servants, located far from the heart of this sport and business.

We also understand that these are interim measures. We urge rapid action to ensure proper dialogue.

Thoroughbred versus standardbred

We are concerned that our issues will be subordinated to the difficulties being faced in the thoroughbred sector.

Prior to 1994, the thoroughbred sport was also private sector, profitable and a taxpaying component of B.C. commerce. But for over 20 years it has been understood that unless there is major capital investment in new facilities, our prospects are dim. With that in mind, thoroughbred interests convinced the former B.C. government that a non-profit agency (originally Crown Corporation and subsequently non-profit society) could best operate the Hastings Park track and set the stage for future development. The Pacific Racing Association was given this mandate and a government-supported line of credit.

Because it was viewed as a quasi-government operation, Hastings Park was given several advantages not available to the standardbred sector. This is outlined at length in the impartial report, The Road to Recovery.

Discussions are now taking place which hope to find a successor to the Pacific Racing Association, but a change of management, in itself, will do nothing to improve the ability of BC horse racing to compete within the sports and gaming marketplace.

Furthermore, while a strong and solid operator for Hastings Park would alleviate some concerns within the thoroughbred sector, it does little for the standardbred sector, 40 per cent of the industry. We hope government does not assume that merely allowing for a new thoroughbred operator would materially improve the racing industry's competitive position.

More profound and fundamental measures are necessary.

Woodbine Entertainment Group
(Ontario Jockey Club)

Woodbine Entertainment Group of Toronto, one of the most respected operators of both thoroughbred and standardbred racing anywhere, made a proposal during 2000 to purchase all assets of the Pacific Racing Association and, initially, Orangeville Raceway Ltd. as well.

Negotiations with Orangeville concerning ownership of the live racing assets eventually were discontinued, but we remained partners in the proposal with respect to urban theletheatres, off-track venues where fans could wager on televised horse races from here and elsewhere. Woodbine has continued to negotiate to acquire Hastings Park, but the original proposal has been revised several times.

Our respect for Woodbine is undiminished, but it is not our place to comment upon thoroughbred negotiations, except to say that standardbred interests should not be ignored or delayed as a result of these decisions.

Our concern is that consideration of vital standardbred sector issues must parallel the Hastings Park ownership and management negotiations. These issues need attention irrespective of the entity which operates the thoroughbred track.

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ęCopyright Fraser Downs 2001