QUEEN’S PARK – Leaders Ledger – Over the past several months, I have had the opportunity to meet with hundreds of people involved with the Ontario horse racing industry. I have visited horse tracks from Windsor to Kawartha and from Fort Erie to Sudbury. One thing I have heard at every stop is that Dalton McGuinty and Liberal Finance Minister Dwight Duncan’s decision to end the successful slots-at-racetracks agreement marked the beginning of the end for Ontario’s horse racing industry and with it over 60,000 direct or indirect jobs (at a time when we already have 600,000 unemployed men and women here in Ontario).
The agreement allowed slot machines into 17 racetracks with a revenue sharing program to benefit all partners. 10% of the revenue went to the tracks themselves, 10% went directly to the people working in the horse industry, 5% to the municipality hosting the racetrack and the remaining 75% was paid to the government of Ontario. The agreement has resulted in over $1 billion in slots revenue being returned to the province last year alone.
Not satisfied with 75% and facing continued bond rating decreases, the McGuinty-government is increasing its take to 100%; squeezing out the horse industry and going back on the existing agreement. In announcing 29 new ‘gaming zones’ the McGuinty government has gone ‘all-in’ for massive new casino expansion while leaving the horse racing industry in its dust.
These changes were announced with a lack of community, industry and stakeholder consultation and with the shameful arrogance of a government that is well past its stale date. They are nothing more than a desperate and greedy cash grab.
Accordingly, I was pleased to introduce Bill 76, ‘Ensuring Local Voices in New Casino Gambling Development Act’. By requiring a mandatory municipal referendum prior to any new casino development, my bill will ensure that local voices are not only heard but also respected and that the local community is indeed a willing host prior to any new casino development.
Bill 76 is now in the crucial committee stages and has been supported by not only the entire PC and NDP Caucus’ but also by several members of the governing Liberal Party, passing second reading 57-19. I look forward to continued debate and discussion on this bill and also on the benefits of a mandatory municipal referendum prior to any new casino development.
As we look towards the fall, I am urging the government to pass Bill 76 and to recognize the importance of local voices when it comes to sensitive issues such as these. Quite simply, new casino development is too important an issue to be left to the politicians to decide upon.
Monte McNaughton, MPP Lambton-Kent-Middlesex