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Canadian Slots Cutbacks in Ontario Divide Opinion among Experts

Some gambling operators in Canada were rocked in late 2012 by the news that the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation planned to remove slots altogether from land based racing venues. The practicalities of the story were that the well-known Slots at Racetracks Program, which was created to stimulate growth and increase revenues in Canada’s gaming industry, was to be cancelled.

The program itself was created in the late 1990s when various pressures were placed on the government when attempting to offer players a wider choice of casinos in the province. With casinos out of the question, they looked to further monetize existing gambling venues and focused on the seventeen horse tracks across Ontario. Under the arrangement that was reached, the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Commission oversaw the placement of slots at all seventeen tracks, with revenues to be divided between the government themselves and the horse racing industry.

While the decision to implement the program was financially driven from a governmental perspective, it had far wider reaching implications. In over a decade since launch, the program has been directly responsible for over $9 billion in revenue that has gone directly into Ontario’s cash reserves. The cut obtained by the horse racing industry also led to the creation of more than 50,000 jobs and huge economic activity, as additional resources became available.
However, in spite of what many would deem a success, the program is now set to come to an end as part of an austerity budget originally delivered in 2012. Aside from austerity, industry experts also feel that the horse racing industry as a whole should become more self-sufficient, particularly in the face of online casino competition which is increasingly drawing slots players away from the track.

As would be expected, not everyone is happy with the elimination of the program, with Canada’s racing industry as a whole expressing disbelief at the implications. While the government themselves have many considerations, such as funding the provision of slots under the program and dealing with problem gambling issues together with the other problems that arise, the slots provided pure revenue for those in the racing industry and the gap that will be left will be large. Experts draw attention not only to the problems that will befall the industry itself, but also the fact that much of the revenue ends up with completely independent businesses and individuals across Ontario.

As things currently stand, the Slots at Racetracks Program is due to be phased out altogether on March 31 2013. However, many retain hope that a compromise or cancellation can be reached in the meantime.

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