Lakeshore mayor challenges wager, attendance concerns raised in AG report

Lakeshore Mayor Tom Bain disagreed with certain portions of the Ontario auditor general's report on horse racing, challenging arguments that betting and attendance numbers are declining across the province.

Ontario auditor general Bonnie Lysyk's 2019 report raised a number of concerns pertaining to the province's horse racing industry, ranging from worries that the industry is moving away from a self-sustaining model to fears that a lack of federal oversight is failing to protect the industry from money laundering.

Included in the report's observations were concerns that betting and attendance have been steadily decreasing at raceways across Ontario.

In-province betting, for example, has decreased by 44 per cent between 2008/09 and 2018/19.

"Wagering by other Canadians on Ontario races has also decreased by 48 per cent," reads an excerpt from the report.

Though he acknowledged "the industry has had some tough times," Bain said he disagreed, pointing out that the Leamington Raceway saw a 22 per cent increase in betting over the last year.

Katerina Georgieva/CBC
Katerina Georgieva/CBC

"We led all tracks in Ontario," Bain said, adding that the raceway also broke attendance records "five out of the 13 Sundays that harness racing was carried on."

"I believe all tracks could do that with a concerted effort," he said. "It's an area that, yes, there may need to be some changes made, but I believe it's an industry that can once again become vibrant."

Speaking to some of the issues raised in the report, Ontario's auditor general added that the province's horse racing industry "lacks transparency and public accountability."

"Of the 15 racetracks, only one posts its financial statements on its website," reads an excerpt from the report. " There is no public reporting of gross wagers collected and wagering commissions by racetrack, how the provincial tax reduction on wagering is shared between the various racetracks and horse people, purses paid by racetracks, revenue and expenses related to racing operations separate from other operations, and key statistics such as the current number of people working in the industry."

Bain said he supported the calls for transparency recommended in the report.

"We need to know what the expenses are for each track, and what the incomes are for each track and what the final bottom line is on each track," he said. "Unfortunately, there's one of two of these tracks [that] are not revealing those figures further."

In terms of the Leamington Raceway's own efforts to improve transparency, Bain said much of the track's finances are a matter of public record.

"When any of the associations ask for our numbers, with regards to what are our costs are to run the racetrack, what our costs are as far as capital expenditures go, maintenance expenditures … our books are open and available," he said. "In no way would we try to hide any of those things, as well as all of our accounts with regards to betting that takes place."