Online betting from as far as Nova Scotia saved Leamington horse racing season

·2 min read

If the novel coronavirus was going to affect an industry in 2020, horse racing was a strong contender.

Though it's a major money-maker in the province, generating $2.3 billion of Ontario's GDP, in the past it relied on people having a little extra money to spend, and coming together en masse on race day to place bets.

At the beginning of the summer race season, things didn't look good, admits Lakeshore Mayor Tom Bain, who is on the executive of the horse racing association.

But once the Lakeshore Horse Racing Association was allowed to have 100 people in the grandstand in Leamington, wagering ended up being as strong as ever.

"Certainly we were pleased with the comeback that we had and we were able to end up having a very positive season," said Bain.

According to Bain, on any given Sunday this summer, the average total wagered was around $24,000. Key to that was online betting.

"This year we did do all the simulcast wagering and we got out to a vast market. So maybe next year, hand in hand we'll bet yet again higher than ever," said Mark Williams, president of the association.

Williams said people from as far away as Nova Scotia were betting on races in Leamington.

Tony Doucette/CBC
Tony Doucette/CBC

This year's season went from early August to the end of October. The association is asking Ontario Racing to add two more race dates next year, but Williams is not optimistic that will happen.

Meanwhile, those who depend on the local horse racing industry for their livelihoods are betting on a good year next year.

Waverly Livingston is a stable hand at Woodslee Farms where she takes care of race horses and horses who are retired.

She says without the local industry she would lose her job.

"I would have a very hard time finding another job, and there are only so many other farms ... in the area that take people," said Livingston.

She is one of three employed at the stables owned by Don and Anita Leschied. Leschied says he spends between $500 and $1,000 a week keeping his horses.

"One of my first part time young ladies is now a veterinary technician who stayed in Essex County," said Leschied.

"We are the second or third largest agricultural industry of the entire agricultural component in the province of Ontario," said Leschied.

Leschied adds that the horse racing industry in Essex County, Chatham-Kent and Lambton county employs 10,000 people. More than 45,000 Ontarians owe their permanent jobs to the horse racing and breeding industry, according to research paid for by Ontario Racing.