New Brunswick

Horse Racing N.B. business will be back to normal soon, exec says after lockout

The head of Horse Racing New Brunswick contends business will be "back to normal very soon," after the organization was locked out of its office and Winners Lounge by Fredericton Exhibition Ltd. overnight Monday.

Fredericton Exhibition Ltd. says it changed locks in middle of night after numerous lease breaches

Mike Vokey, the executive director of Fredericton Exhibition Ltd., said Horse Racing New Brunswick is free to try to negotiate a new lease to operate Winners Lounge. (CBC)

The head of Horse Racing New Brunswick contends business will be "back to normal very soon," after the organization was locked out of its office and Winners Lounge by Fredericton Exhibition Ltd. overnight Monday.

"We have our legal representatives working on this because, as per our signed lease, HRNB was not in any violation of the current lease agreement," Roberta Nixon said in a statement issued late Tuesday afternoon.

Fredericton Exhibition Ltd. changed the locks and alarm codes early Tuesday morning and hired a security firm, citing numerous lease breaches.

Nixon acknowledges HRNB's property tax payment of about $36,000 was one day late, but says that's because the due date of May 15 fell on a Sunday this year.

When a cheque for that amount was delivered to Mike Vokey, the executive director of Fredericton Exhibition Ltd. on Monday, he refused to accept it without opening it.

Nixon contends the lease provides for a 30-day grace period.

"We tried to pay 18 hours into that grace period and were received with aggression," she said, calling it a "dishonest" and "underhanded" approach by Fredericton Exhibition Ltd.

"My main goal is to get this solved, get our people back to work and resume HRNB operations in Fredericton as soon as possible," said Nixon, noting it was business as usual at the Saint John, Dieppe and Quispamsis operations.

​Lease breaches

Vokey told CBC News the attempted late payment of property taxes is one of the lease breaches involved.

"It was due on the 15th and they were told to have it in on the Friday to make sure it was in by the 15th and that didn't take place," Vokey said.

By the time the attempted cheque delivery was made on Monday afternoon, the exhibition's board of directors had already decided to take the action that unfolded early Tuesday morning, he said.

After Winners closed around 3 a.m. on Tuesday, the bar's manager was contacted by its alarm company and told alarms were sounding, according to Nixon.

The bar manager returned to Winners to find Fredericton police, security, Vokey, and a locksmith, she said.

"They've locked us out," said Nixon.

"We cannot access our bar, our simulcast, our Coasters, or our head office and all of our business operations."

VLTs shut down

Winners is a popular Coasters lounge with 25 video lottery terminals owned by the Atlantic Lottery Corp.

In a good two-week period, Nixon said, the VLTs provide Horse Racing New Brunswick with about $15,000 as its share of the revenue from the machines.

It is not clear when Winners Lounge will reopen.

Vokey said the plan will "kind of develop on its own" in the near future.

"I think the Exhibition's hope would be it continues and the VLTs remain there and the property continues under some new management," he said.

"It is possible HRNB could come to the table and negotiate a new lease for it, but it would be a lease that is different and more substantial and protected the interests of the Exhibition."

Fredericton Exhibition Ltd. "is prepared to" take over operating Winners Lounge, said Vokey.

"It was certainly not a goal that we've ever talked about," he said.

Atlantic Lottery spokeswoman Christine Manore said the corporation is aware of the situation.

"This is between the retailer and the landlord," said Manore. "At this time, Atlantic Lottery is evaluating the situation."

Only 3 race dates

Vokey said the lease agreement also states there is to be a "full schedule" of harness racing at Fredericton Raceway, but this year only three race dates are scheduled for Fredericton.

"That's an important term because we provide that space for harness racing," said Vokey. "It's provided for $1 a year.

"In exchange for getting it for a dollar, they have certain conditions they are expected to meet."

Nixon said "because of money" the number of harness racing dates in the province this year was reduced to 16 from 21, with Fredericton getting three of those dates. 

Nixon said Horse Racing New Brunswick has about $150,000 in operational costs on the Fredericton Exhibition grounds, including the $36,000 in property taxes.

"We pay all of the power, the water, sewer, all of the maintenance and repair, all the groundskeeping, all the snowplowing."

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