Manitoba trots out support for horse racing industry

The Manitoba government is planning to buy more time for the struggling horse racing industry by giving the sector more money sooner.

Agriculture minister Ralph Eichler says struggling sport too valuable to fail

The Manitoba government believes that collapsing the remaining five years of a funding agreement with the Manitoba Jockey Club will ensure the sustainability of the horse racing industry. (Cliff Simpson/CBC)

The Manitoba government is planning to buy more time for the struggling horse racing industry by giving the sector more money sooner.

The province has pledged to pay out the remaining five years of a legal settlement to the Manitoba Jockey Club over three years.  

The club would receive $7.4 million annually for the duration of the arrangement, which was originally reached after the jockey club took the province to court over a plan to hand over the reins of the horse-racing track to Red River Ex

The province says more money upfront will improve the industry's sustainability.

After the next three racing seasons, the province would continue to finance the sport, agriculture minister Ralph Eichler said.

"We have to support in some way or fashion. It's a $34-40 million income tax return for government. It creates about $112 million a year … through tourism and raising revenue, 1,100-1,200 jobs," he said. "It's a big business for Manitoba."

Arrangement not sustainable: Eichler

Eichler said the de-escalating formula reached by the former NDP government and Manitoba Jockey Club in 2014 would slip from $5.4 million in the initial years to $3 million by the 10th year. 

"It just wasn't going to make it sustainable," he said.

The province decided to increase funding after analyzing a government-commissioned review of the industry, published last week, which recommended a boost of around $600,000 annually to revitalize the thoroughbred, standardbred and Manitoba Horse Racing Commission programs, a news release said.

Darren Dunn, CEO of Assiniboia Downs, said the new deal gives the industry and government a chance to discuss a long-term strategy for horse racing in Manitoba.

Peguis development vital

A major reason why the 2014 settlement wasn't sustainable is because a planned development by the Manitoba Jockey Club and Peguis First Nation hasn't been started.

The proposal, which would generate revenue for the industry, would see a hotel, conference space and possibly retail and restaurant locations built on 36 acres.

Dunn isn't sure when construction will start, but he believes the three years of accelerated provincial funding will give the groups time to strategize.

"The development on this property will form a key piece of future growth revenues, so we continue to be optimistic about it," he said.

The province's treasury is expected to fork over $10.2 million this year through a number of means, including settlements, grants, VLT revenue and some of the proceeds from betting.

NDP leader Wab Kinew is baffled the government is respecting this arrangement considering their usually combative nature with the courts.

"They have the prerogative to tear up a legal agreement with the Métis," he said. "This government can argue legally, apparently, against the constitutional authority to bring in a carbon tax, but yet on this issue their hands are tied?"

With files from Sean Kavanagh

About the Author

Ian Froese

Reporter

Ian Froese is a reporter at CBC Manitoba. He previously wrote about rural Manitoba for the Brandon Sun and the Carillon in Steinbach. Story idea? Email ian.froese@cbc.ca.