First let me thank you for the opportunity to address your board of directors on Wednesday, August 28, 2019 to discuss the current situation regarding the Ontario Harness Horse Association (OHHA) funding as well as the representation of Standardbred horse people in Ontario. After hearing from you and your directors, OHHA would like to propose the same funding arrangement that COSA has with the National Capital Region Harness Horse Association (NCRHHA). You indicated that the NCRHHA receives 1.5% of the purses paid out at Rideau Carleton Raceway and that COSA covers the costs of member benefits from deductions from the purse account. We propose that OHHA receive the same arrangement and that COSA forward the 1.5% from the tracks that were contracted with OHHA prior to the changes that allowed Woodbine Entertainment Group (WEG) to contract on behalf of the entire industry. For clarity, that would be all racetracks with the exception of Mohawk and Rideau Carleton Raceway. In addition, COSA would reimburse OHHA for the costs of benefits provided to the membership similar to the arrangement that OHHA has had with the Ontario Lottery And Gaming Corporation that reimbursed those costs from the stranded purse account. We would appreciate a copy of the agreement that exists between the Central Ontario Standardbred Association and the National Capital Region Harness Horse Association as well as a copy of the current COSA contract with Woodbine Entertainment Group and a copy of the contract that now exists with NCRHHA and Rideau Carleton Raceway. If, however, you and your board do not feel comfortable in sharing these documents we would be more than happy to attend your office to view them with our legal counsel. As you are aware that we have a fiduciary responsibility to our members to review any documents that affect our members with our legal advisors.
On the topic of representation, OHHA believes in and supports a democratic election in order to allow the participants in racing to choose their representative. As you indicated during our meeting, while OHHA prefers an open election allowing all participants to vote, COSA does not believe that grooms should have an opportunity to participate in such a democratic process. OHHA believes strongly that all industry members should participate and would abide by the results of such an election. However, to bring closure to this situation, although it does not agree with excluding grooms from voting, OHHA would accept an election without grooms’ participation. To be clear, if OHHA is chosen to be the representative of the horsepeople, we will not exclude grooms from voting on future issues.
During our meeting I found it disturbing to learn that none of the directors of COSA had read the long-term funding agreement, despite the fact that they had endorsed and signed off on the agreement on behalf of the Standardbred horsepeople. As you are aware, OHHA has significant concerns with the long-term funding agreement and we have received legal opinions as suggested in the Ontario Racing Membership agreement under clause 10.1, which counselled against signing it in its current form. The document, while protecting racetrack operators, fails to protect the biggest investors in Ontario, the breeders, owners, trainers and caretakers that count on us to represent their interests.
OHHA has continuously expressed the concerns of the horsepeople about the total lack of accountability and transparency with the new agreement and the management of the industry through the new organization, Ontario Racing. OHHA used to receive monthly wagering reports from the Canadian Pari-Mutuel Agency. These reports are no longer provided unless the racetrack gives approval to the Federal Regulator, CPMA, to share that information. OHHA has written to WEG for the approval but WEG has refused to sign the approval form. This was the only way OHHA could verify wagering numbers and WEG’s refusal to allow us access to that information is very disturbing.
OHHA also recently learned from the Alcohol and Gaming Corporation that, as a result of an audit of the purse moneys at WEG, Standardbred purse money was not being held in a separate trust account as required by AGCO rule 7.16.01 and that “monthly statements provided to the Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association of Ontario and the Central Ontario Standardbred Association did not contain all of the necessary information about actual payments.”
Bill, regardless of who is representing the Standardbred horsepeople there is a fiduciary responsibility to the membership. OHHA has questions about how COSA ensures that horsepeople receive their proper allocation of wagering revenues and government support without the information that is required to be provided under rule 7.16.10 of the Rules of Standardbred Racing 2018.
I look forward to your response to our proposal on the funding arrangement as well as the process to determine the representative of the Standardbred participants for the future.