Ontario Harness Horse Association
The Chair (Mr. Stephen Crawford): We’ll call on our next presenter, the Ontario Harness Horse
Association. Welcome to our committee. If you could just please state your name for the record, and
you can get right into your presentation. I’ll give you a one-minute warning.
Mr. Brian Tropea: Thank you. My name is Brian Tropea, and I’m the general manager of the
Ontario Harness Horse Association. Before my employment with the association, I was an owner,
trainer, driver and breeder of standardbred racehorses.
The Ontario Harness Horse Association was formed by a group of horse people in 1962 to represent
owners, trainers, drivers, breeders and grooms of racehorses in Ontario. The formation of OHHA
brought a much-needed counterbalance to the power of the racetracks. Over the last 55 years or so,
OHHA negotiated contracts with individual racetracks which addressed horse people’s concerns. As
well, OHHA represented them with municipal, provincial and federal governments.
OHHA has historically been funded by a voluntary deduction from the horse people’s share of
industry revenues, addressed through individual contracts with the racetracks.
In the late 1990s, as most of you know, the PC government started the Slots at Racetracks Program.
The stated public policy on that program was to promote live horse racing in the province and
subsequently benefit the agricultural sector in Ontario. As well, we know that this program returned
substantial revenue back to the treasury to support other programs. In fact, the Slots at Racetracks
Program was the largest contributor of funds of any of the OLG’s lines of business.
During this program, OHHA continued to negotiate contracts, and horse people funded the
association from a percentage of both wagering and gaming commissions. This increased funding
allowed OHHA to develop programs like life, health and dental coverage and a registered retirement
savings plan for our members.
Since the end of the slots program, there have been significant changes to the regulations, which
have had a negative effect on the association and its ability to properly represent its membership.
The most significant change was the granting of the home market area—the geographic boundaries
that determine which track receives revenue from wagers at those locations—to a single racetrack,
In order to receive a wagering permit under the federal regulations, a racetrack must show proof of a
revenue-sharing agreement with the horse people. That’s why the tracks had to sign contracts with
the horse people’s representative.
That’s no longer the case, as the federal government allows all wagering in Ontario to be conducted
under a single licence held by Woodbine. Therefore, there are no longer contracts and no
mechanism for horse people at all of the other tracks in Ontario to fund their association. Woodbine
continues to pay OHHA 1.5% of the purses paid at the non-wagering tracks; however, there is no
certainty of funding and no contractual obligation for them to do so. OHHA members need to have
secure funding and have input into decision-making, as they have for the past 55 years.
As most of you are aware, the previous government established a long-term funding deal for the
horse racing industry. This agreement was negotiated between Woodbine, the OLG and the new
industry governance board called Ontario Racing. There was no input from the horse people during
the drafting of this agreement that we are aware of, and it was presented to the industry with a
deadline of approximately two weeks to sign off. There was an urgency to have this done prior to the
last election. When we met with then-Premier Wynne to voice our concerns with the document, she
encouraged us to meet with the Ministry of Finance to get a better understanding of the agreement.
During that meeting, OLG employees Lori Sullivan and Cal Bricker were asked what would happen if
we did not sign the agreement. We were told that it wasn’t necessary for horse people to agree; as
long as all of the racetracks signed off, the agreement would move forward.
Shortly after that meeting, we learned of a number of racetracks and other horse people’s
associations that were not going to sign the agreement. Our own legal advice was not to sign it as
there were many concerns, not the least of which was the total loss of autonomy and the forfeiture of
our members’ intellectual property rights. Also, there is no escalator clause in the agreement to
offset future cost increases, no mention of revenue-sharing for future gaming products, a clawback
of funding by the OLG in year 3 of the agreement and no requirement for any racetrack to host live
Despite being assured that the deal required all racetracks to agree, the final document reappeared
as an execution. From speaking with some individuals who did sign, they felt that despite the advice
to not sign they were backed into a corner and had no choice. I understand that the racetrack here in
Sarnia is one of those that has not signed the agreement. When we discussed this agreement with
then-candidate Premier Ford, he advised us that it was a bad deal, not to sign it and that help was
on its way. We were told that this agreement would bring certainty and stability to the industry.
However, we have recently read reports that although Western Fair Raceway has signed the
agreement, there’s a possibility they may not be able to race unless they can come to an agreement
with the gaming operator to remain at their site and they continue to receive additional rent from the
We’ve heard reports of the PC government trying to assist the industry and we want to thank them
for their efforts. However, once again, the horse people have no understanding of what the new
arrangements mean for the participants in the breeding, training and racing industries. For some
reason, not all racetracks have been offered the assistance. The Lakeshore racing group has not
received any offer to assist them, like those offered to Ajax, Sarnia, Dresden, Fort Erie, Kawartha
and possibly others. The Lakeshore group is representing the horse people who race in the Windsor
area. That area of the province was most significantly harmed when the slot program ended. When
the announcement was made, the racetrack closed down and the owners of the property bulldozed
the entire facility.
A group of concerned horse people got together and came up with a plan to support racing in that
area. Their end goal was the construction of a new racetrack in that area to be run as a not-for-profit.
They leased Leamington raceway has a stopgap measure and applied for a racing licence. They
now run 13 days of racing for $487,000 of purse money a year. In 2011, the last year of racing in
Windsor, they raced for $7 million in 91 days of racing. Despite strong wagering and public support,
the track has been left out of discussions to improve the racing program in that area of the province.
The question that needs to be asked is, why do some racetracks only have $35,000 a day in prize
money and others are at $65,000? It costs the same to have a horse regardless of where you live in
Horse people cannot exist on these low purse levels and limited racing opportunities. We don’t know
how purses are determined—
The Chair (Mr. Stephen Crawford): One minute.
Mr. Brian Tropea: —the model is not equitable now and appears to have set certain tracks up to
fail. We believe that all racetracks should have an equal opportunity to succeed, based on their own
best efforts. The current model has one track—Woodbine—controlling the distribution of the majority
of funds. Woodbine, which runs two racetracks, is a not-for-profit that pays out over $70 million a
year in salaries and provides approximately 350 days of racing.
The standardbred industry has the ability to create jobs and put people in rural Ontario back to work,
but it won’t be done with the present agreement. The only thing that has grown in the industry is the
bureaucracy. We now have a racing division at OLG that has an annual budget of approximately $10
million a year; a new governance structure, Ontario Racing, with a budget approaching $2 million a
year; and a management group owned by Woodbine with a budget of $3.5 million a year—a total of
approximately $15 million. As horse people, we’re not seeing any benefits of this increased red tape
and bureaucracy. In fact, despite all this added cost, wagering in the province continues to decline.
The industry needs to return to a model where racetrack owners and horse people share information
and revenues fairly, and the tracks are incented to grow the industry once again. There has been a
complete lack of transparency and accountability within—
The Chair (Mr. Stephen Crawford): Thank you very much. We’re actually just going to go to the
government side for questions. Ms. Skelly.
Ms. Donna Skelly: I’ll let him take it from my time.
Mr. Brian Tropea: There’s been a complete lack of transparency and accountability within the horse
racing industry since 2012. That is unacceptable and must be addressed. Horse people need to
have a clear understanding of the circumstances upon which they must rely in order to invest. We
request that the government put together a group to evaluate the current situation and develop a
plan that will ensure fair distribution of revenues and allow the industry to flourish once again. Thank
you very much.
The Chair (Mr. Stephen Crawford): Okay. Any further questions from the government side, or
Ms. Donna Skelly: Yes.
The Chair (Mr. Stephen Crawford): Ms. Skelly.
Ms. Donna Skelly: Thank you. I’ve known Brian—it’s nice to see you—for a number of years and, in
fact, started working with the horse people when they did cancel the Slots at Racetracks Program
back then. Since that cancellation, a leaked memo came out—I remember reading the memo. It was
a Liberal memo stating that “if we cancel this program”—which they did—“we would see 23,000 jobs
lost and 27,000 horses euthanized.” Is it as bad as that?
Mr. Brian Tropea: It would have been as bad as that without the total devastation of the industry, as
I said in my presentation. We’ve got 10,000 fewer people licensed to operate in horse racing. That
doesn’t take into account all the spinoff jobs, the people that don’t have to be licensed who are
working at farms around the province. You could easily estimate that there’s another 4,000 or 5,000
people. So basically five Oshawa GM plants have shut down, and it doesn’t appear that anybody
seems to be—
Ms. Donna Skelly: It’s not on their radar.
Mr. Brian Tropea: No.
Ms. Donna Skelly: In Flamborough, I’ve seen a number of training centres that have shuttered and
farmers who have just closed and sold—actually, they haven’t sold the farm; they’ve just left. As we
know, some of them have actually moved out of the country.
Can you expand a little bit more on what you think we have to do. It’s very confusing, but some deals
have been struck. I know that the number of race dates at Flamborough is minimal at this point, but
what is the situation currently and what do we really have to do, in your view?
Mr. Brian Tropea: I think, in my own opinion, number one, we need an acknowledgement that the
industry is suffering and we need a commitment to get it back to what it was again. That includes the
starting point as having full access to all the financial information that we need to properly evaluate
where the revenues are coming from and how they’re being allocated within the industry. I believe
it’s quite possible that there’s already enough money coming to the industry; it’s just not being
properly shared amongst the participants.
Ms. Donna Skelly: Distributed equally—or at least what you believe would be a more reasonable,
equitable disbursement of the—
Mr. Brian Tropea: An equitable disbursement of the funds, absolutely.
Ms. Donna Skelly: Okay. And if you could just perhaps paint a picture of how devastating this has
been to the industry. I mean, I’ve known people who have suffered tremendously. These are some
people without skills in any other trade, and they’ve lost everything.
Mr. Brian Tropea: Yes. It’s as bad as I know people who have committed suicide over it. I hate to
say that, but I know a young gentleman from the Windsor area who posted a video and said, “I hate
to think of what’s going to happen if horse racing dies.” They closed the racetrack down, and he
killed himself. There’s video evidence of that. People are desperate.
Nobody was getting rich under the old Slots at Racetracks Program. Horse people are always after
the next champion, and whatever they earn, they increase the quality of their bloodstock. They buy a
new truck, they buy a new trailer or they improve their farms. Nobody takes vacations. It’s a 365-
days-a-year job. Unfortunately, we went from racing the prize money that horse people had available
to them—on the standardbred side, it was about $180 million a year. Now we race for $90 million a
year. Basically, it’s half of what it was back then, and we couldn’t get rich then. Typically, it’s
The Chair (Mr. Stephen Crawford): Thank you very much. We’re going to move on to questions
from the opposition side. Mr. Hatfield.
Mr. Percy Hatfield: Thank you, Chair. In the interest of full disclosure, I bet money and lost money
on Mr. Tropea’s horses.
Mr. Brian Tropea: You can tell them about the wins too.
Mr. Percy Hatfield: Yes, but it would be a shorter conversation.
You stated that when you met with Mr. Ford during the campaign, he said, “If it’s a bad deal, don’t
sign it. Help is on the way.” Have you been able to connect with Mr. Ford since the election to have a
discussion about the future of harness racing in Ontario?
Mr. Brian Tropea: Not formally, no.
Mr. Percy Hatfield: I would say to the members of the committee that Mr. Tropea has asked for a
group to be formed to examine the state of harness racing in Ontario. I would encourage—with
Donna’s background, especially—to promote that, to allow the little people in horse racing in
Ontario—the little people are the horse people in standardbred. They’re not the thoroughbred
people; these are the people who live in rural Ontario, have farms in rural Ontario and keep business
going in rural Ontario. Because of the Woodbine Entertainment Group controlling the entire industry,
they can’t get a foot in the door to say, “Look, folks. You’ve got to listen to what’s going on,” and
hopefully make some changes because these people are being stiffed, and it’s not a good thing. I
hope that at the end of the hearings at some point you go to the powers that be and say, “Can we
have a meeting? Can we form a group? Can we examine what’s going on?” I know Mr. Tropea
would support that. Would you not, sir?
Mr. Brian Tropea: Absolutely.
Mr. Percy Hatfield: Thank you.
We have seen in Windsor the total devastation of our harness racing industry. We lost our track. It
was demolished, as Brian has said.
I go to Leamington in the summertime at the fairgrounds—not-for-profit. Can you tell the committee
the handle that the dedicated supporters of the industry in the Leamington area bring in on their
betting compared to the other smaller tracks in Ontario?
Mr. Brian Tropea: Yes. Their live handle, actually, is probably second in the province, despite the
fact that they’re racing in an antiquated facility that really is a fairground-type facility. They get
tremendous community support, and they always have had. Windsor was always the second-best
betting market in the province. Unfortunately, if we want to grow the industry again, there should be
a racetrack—a professional racetrack—in that area of the province.
Just to expand a little bit on the devastation of Windsor and the economy: There were 350 people
who lost their jobs when they closed the slots down at the racetrack. The horse racing industry was
devastated. On top of that, it cost the government $20 million a year in profits that they were earning
from the slots that were located at the racetrack.
Mr. Percy Hatfield: And that was 250 or 300 people at the slots but another 3,000 people at the
Mr. Brian Tropea: Absolutely, yes.
Mr. Percy Hatfield: And at the time, they were competing with tracks in Michigan that are no longer
The Chair (Mr. Stephen Crawford): One minute.
Mr. Percy Hatfield: Would that even prove perhaps more beneficial—bringing the Americans back
over for harness racing in our part of North America?
Mr. Brian Tropea: Yes; I would say, absolutely. Unfortunately, Ontario seems to be going down the
path that Michigan went when they got rid of the dedicated regulator for horse racing in Michigan.
They moved horse racing under the gaming commission, and it wasn’t long after that happened that
there was no more racing in Michigan. There are maybe 20 days of racing now. I used to race over
there all summer. They had four or five year-round racetracks in Michigan.
Mr. Percy Hatfield: One final point: If the track loses the slots in London and the slots go to a new
casino, what will be the long-term impact of harness racing in the London area?
Mr. Brian Tropea: From the reports that we’ve read in the paper, it could be the end of racing in the
Mr. Percy Hatfield: Another track gone.
Mr. Brian Tropea: Yes.
Mr. Percy Hatfield: Thank you very much, Brian, for coming in.
The Chair (Mr. Stephen Crawford): Thank you very much for your presentation. We appreciate it.
Mr. Brian Tropea: Thank you very much for having me.