RURAL RANT: OLG Greed is Responsible for Slaughter of Ontario’s Race Horses
I’ve been thinking about this blog ever since the Super Bowl, which is when I saw the best commercial I’ve ever seen—the Budweiser Clydesdale 2013 ad.
I’ve worked in advertising and marketing many times and I’m also a fiction writer, so I recognize a good story. This story, told completely without words, is not only powerful, but also jerks the heartstrings hard. If you haven’t yet seen it, watch it before reading further because spoilers are coming up. It’s at:
The simple, sweet story of a trainer and the love he feels for a horse he raised from a foal, the sleepless nights when the little horse was sick, the playfulness, the joy that the horse brought him, and most of all the heartbreak every farm kid has known when a favourite animal, which is, after all, livestock—not a pet – is shipped, rings absolutely true.
Some livestock gets sold for breeding or racing or other purpose, and some gets sold for slaughter, and it’s sad, but also necessary, and a day that has been expected since the animal’s birth. This video captures that feeling perfectly, which is probably stronger with horses than any other farm animal, partly because horses are a lot like people, and partly because they’re not usually meant for slaughter, so kids can let themselves love a horse in a way they can’t love a steer.
Now let’s imagine the story is just a bit different. Let’s make that foal a Standardbred, not a Clydesdale; let’s make it a harness-racing horse, not a heavy horse; and let’s make the industry the Sport of Kings, not selling beer.
Then let’s consider the Ontario horseracing industry and how it’s being gutted by a small cabal of people who have been heavily lobbied by the Nevada and Ontario gambling industry players. These players want a piece of the Canadian gambling pie. They want downtown casinos and electronic gaming in Bingo halls and they want almost complete control.
The Nevada gaming industry has hit hard times. In Las Vegas and other places dependent on addicts, hustlers and tourists, revenues have gone way down. In Ontario, Bingo halls have been on their way out for decades. And everywhere people have less discretionary spending, which means fewer gamblers, and which means a higher percentage of the gamblers who are playing are there because they can’t quit.
That is the explanation for the intensive lobbying that caused the provincial government, after being convinced by the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) to strip the Slots at Racetracks Program (SARP), introduced in 1998 as a way for the province to gain gambling revenue from facilities that were already accepted in their communities – and it provided a shot in the arm to the racing industry.
That industry is reputed to support 55,000 jobs, most of which are in rural Ontario. The Ontario industry also adds to the value of the Standardbred and Thoroughbred markets all over North America, including New York State and Quebec.
Yet SARP is being squeezed out deliberately by the provincial government, the OLG and the big machine and table owners. What’s the result?
Horses are very expensive to keep. They are part of a business. They must earn money for their owners. So some horses are being put down. Yes, destroyed. Sometimes humanely, but euthanizing is expensive and the bodies of euthanized animals must be dealt with differently as they are filled with poison. So sometimes horses have to be shot. They shoot horses—or didn’t you know?
So, let’s imagine that scenario as a Super Bowl commercial. Instead of being chased, greeted and nuzzled by the horse that he loved so dearly, the trainer instead watches his friend die. And the trainer, that tough but tender man who didn’t cry before, cries.
That is the future in store for possibly thousands of horses across this province unless the government reverses its decision and reinstates SARP, which provided Ontario with $1.1 billion a year in the 2009-10 fiscal year. Yes, billion! SARP provided over half of OLG’s total revenue of $1.9 billion.
And since when did the primary function of government become “maximizing revenue” as the OLG report suggests anyway? Government is supposed to be about improving society, maintaining jobs, and building a solid economic base for its people, not for a handful of shady operators.
Go on, watch the ad again.
Then ask the province to explain why the OLG, Bally’s, Caesars, MGM Grand, and Boardwalk Entertainment are promoting dead horses—and a landslide of broken hearts.