The partnership plan is a five-year agreement to provide money for larger purses, more race dates, support for racehorse breeders and for regional racetracks.
Originally set at $400 million — the province added an extra $100 million at the last minute — the money replaces transitional funding that allowed for a shortened racing season last year.
Tentative race dates have been scheduled for all Ontario tracks, including the Downs. Assuming a deal is reached, 32 races would be held this year, beginning May 24 and continuing each Saturday until Oct. 11. Races would also be held Wednesday evenings from June 18 until Aug. 27. The number of races each season would increase to 34 in 2015; 36 in 2016; 38 in 2017; and, 40 in 2018, the final year of the agreement.
New support programs were needed after the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. ended the Slots at Racetracks program in 2012. The program saw tracks share gambling revenue in exchange for hosting slot machines.
When Kathleen Wynne became premier in January 2013, however, she backtracked on the OLG modernization plan, and eventually began negotiations to provide new long-term funding.
“I’m confident this plan will not only create a sustainable racing industry in Ontario, but will create jobs and provide more opportunities for success,” Wynne, who is also the minister of Agriculture and Food, said in a release dated April 1.
While hopeful a deal will be reached in Sudbury, MacIsaac said racing is not yet a certainty for 2014.
“We're making progress, but the final question still has to be answered,” he said. “They've come to agreements with racetracks in southern Ontario, most of them, anyway, but we're still working on them for our track here in Northern Ontario.
“We don't have enough information yet. That's part of the discussions that are going on, so we can come to a conclusion about the future of racing.”
With plans to build a casino in Sudbury delayed indefinitely, the OLG is also negotiating with MacIsaac on a lease to keep the slots spinning for another few years. That's also a “a work in progress,” he said, with progress being made but no deal in place.
With a provincial election looming, MacIsaac said he hopes whoever forms the next government will continue support for horseracing.
“I don't know much about politics, but I hope so,” he said. “This has been very stressful experience – not only for the racetrack, but for employees and horsepeople.
“There's a lot of people involved in the race track. People's livelihoods depend on it. So they've been on pins and needles for a while now.”
The cutoff date for getting the full 32-date season in for 2014 is near, he said.
“We're getting close to that now,” MacIsaac said. “Tentatively, the end of May would be the start of our race season. So we're running short on time.”