The Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority recently informed the Saskatchewan standardbred and thoroughbred racing sectors that grants they have received for decades and approved for 2012 will be eliminated completely in 2013.
The Authority collects about $850,000 in taxes from wagers on races while giving out $1.5 million in grants, the lion’s share to the thoroughbred racing in Saskatoon, with the remainder to standardbreds in Yorkton and Regina. The Yorkton Exhibition Association received $320,000 for the upcoming 2012 race season, the same grant as 2011.
Tim McMillan, Minister responsible for the Liquor and Gaming Authority said the decision was one of priorities.
“Largely it comes down to priority,” he told Yorkton This Week, adding “first and foremost we believe in having a balanced budget.”
McMillan said with rising costs to meet a growing population in education, long term care, and addressing health issues such as surgical wait times, the government needs to look at where it spends its money.
When looking at horse racing, McMillan said wagering has been in decline in recent years, suggesting less public interest. He added the government has also stated it wants to move away from supporting industries which require annual subsidies just to survive.
The combination made cutting the grants a logical step, said the Minister.
The local exhibition association said the news was certainly not good.
“The YEA is still digesting the news and obviously we will ask to meet with the Minister at a future date to discuss in more detail their decision but at the end of the day the government is just doing their job and we respect that,” said YEA race director Dave Nussbaumer. “Unfortunately the horse racing industry was a casualty in the most recent budget.”
Carole Dunbar, a Director of Standardbred Canada from Saskatchewan said the cuts caught her off guard, “as it was announced just days after the horse racing budget was announced for 2012.”
McMillan said the industry was aware of the likelihood grants would come to an end.
“This is something I’ve certainly talked about over the last several years with the industry,” he said, adding he suggested the industry “should be looking for a business model that is more self-sufficient.”
McMillan said as recently as two years ago the industry was told “to be prepared at some point, in a world of competing priorities, that your funding may be in jeopardy.”
The Minister said there are examples of racing being successful without grant dollars, pointing to chuckwagon racing as an example.
While chuckwagon racers can fully govern their sector, standardbred and thoroughbred racers will not, even in a post grant world, if they still want to allow public wagering. McMillan said the Criminal Code across Canada requires government to govern wagering as a public assurance their wagers are safe.
Nussbaumer said the YEA remains hopeful something can be arranged with government to salvage racing.
“The Provincial Exhibition Associations have a long history in this province and have worked with all levels of government in a professional and constructive manner in the past and we see no reason why that cannot continue working with them and possibly come up with a solution that works for provincial associations and horsemen,” he said. “… I have a hard time believing that there is not a solution in some way, shape or form that will be beneficial to the horsemen as well as the Exhibition Associations.”
Dunbar said the industry will be working to find a way to survive.
“We are good for 2012 but next year we will have to look at ways to sustain the days we have with revenues from outside the government. Horsemen have fought this fight before and we will fight this again,” she said. “Standardbreds have 16 days at Cornerstone Raceway in Yorkton and four days at West Meadows Raceway in Regina. The thoroughbreds race 30 days at Marquis Downs in Saskatoon also. We will be working hard to sustain those days.”
Dunbar said as a horse owner herself she knows the industry has investments to protect, adding the announcement will stagnate the sector this summer
“As an owner we have to look at other ways to protect our investment. There have been horses bought and bred to keep this industry going and we will not be adding anymore until we have a plan in place,” she said. “We have owned standardbreds since 1972 and our life has revolved around racing and our horses. We have invested a lot of money in horses, breeding fees, racing equipment, trucks and trailers. It is hard to get our heads around this announcement.
“I am hoping the industry can survive these cuts to our funding. $1.5 million is a lot to lose but Saskatchewan horsemen are a tough bunch and will work to find a way out of this and continue with horse racing in Saskatchewan. We have a 100 year history and will hope to continue this tradition.”