Edmonton horse racing contract awarded to Century Casinos

Alberta has chosen an international gaming company to own, build and operate a new horse racing facility in the Edmonton market area.

'It's a big move for the horse racing industry in Alberta,' company spokesperson says

A contract to build a new horse racing track for the Edmonton market has been awarded to Century Casinos. (CBC)

A $50-million horse racing facility to be built near the Edmonton International Airport will feature the only mile-long track in Western Canada, a spokesman for the project said Monday.

It will be called Century Mile, Paul Ryneveld, a spokesman for operator Century Casinos, said in an interview.

The facility will be built on a 105-acre parcel of land in Leduc County west of the RedTail Landing golf course. Ryneveld said if construction can start next spring, the racetrack will be operating by the fall of 2018.

"In North America, [one mile] is considered to be the optimal distance," said Ryneveld, who is general manager of the Century Downs racetrack near Calgary.

"Most of the premier racing facilities in North America are all mile racetracks. This will allow Albertans the ability to race horses on a mile racetrack, and [allow] the fans to wager on them."

One of two 'A' tracks in Alberta

Longer tracks make for more exciting racing because they have fewer turns and longer straightaways, allowing jockeys more room to manoeuvre their horses, he said. "For gamblers, they prefer to wager on mile racetracks."

Horse Racing Alberta announced Monday that Century Casinos Europe GmbH is the successful applicant to own, build and operate an "A" track horse racing facility for the Edmonton market area. Century Downs, with its 5/8-mile track, is the only other "A" track facility in Alberta.

The announcement came after months of speculation about the future of the sport in Edmonton and the province at large. Expressions of interest for the contract closed in May 2015.

Edmonton Northlands, which has a 5/8-mile track, announced at the beginning of 2016 it was dropping horse racing from its roster at the end of the season. Questions about government funding arose when a 10-year funding arrangement with the previous government was set to expire in March 2016.

Thoroughbred horse breeder Michelle Brewster says that announcement left her future uncertain.

"There certainly was a lot of anxiety, that's for sure. People spend a lot of money on this, and a lot of people like to go and bet on them, so it really was an anxious time."

She was thrilled to hear about the new track.

Ralph Danard, president of the Alberta Quarter Horse Racing Association, says a replacement track of this size will have a huge impact on the industry in Alberta.

"I'm just ecstatic. It is something that is going to benefit a lot of people because there is such a trickle down effect in the racing industry.

"It starts at the racetrack but goes down to the breeders, the vets, the farriers, the hay producers, the grain producers, the trucks, and the trailers."

Industry will see new growth

Horse Racing Alberta said Century Casinos has proven experience in gaming and horse racing and will bring that experience to the Edmonton-area project.

"We're pretty excited about it," Ryneveld said. "We believe that having Century operate both 'A' tracks in the province will actually lead to further growth and sustainability of the industry."

In addition to Century Downs, the company operates several Alberta casinos, including Century Edmonton and Century Calgary. It is preparing to open Century St. Albert in the former Apex Casino space.

Under the previous agreement, Horse Racing Alberta received the equivalent of 51.67 per cent of revenue from slot machines at the province's four Racing Entertainment Centres. Under a new agreement announced before the old one expired in March, that amount was slated to drop over three years to 40 per cent.

A government spokesperson said Monday's announcement does not change the current agreement.

Ryneveld said the new Edmonton racetrack will be able to accommodate 1,100 slot machines. It will also have a full restaurant, a lounge, and other concessions and bars throughout the facility, including on the track apron.

"It's very big for us — for Century — and we also feel it's a big move for the horse racing industry in Alberta," he said.

Ryneveld said the facility will appeal not only to Edmonton horse-racing fans, but to gamblers who live in south Edmonton.

"We believe that this is an untapped market area of the Edmonton market. Currently most of the casinos sit north of the Whitemud and there's nothing to the south. It's in a very convenient location, a known location, and it is in an area that is growing and developing."

The NDP government says the horse racing industry directly supports 1,600 jobs in the province.