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New agreement gives Alberta horse racing a late push towards viability
Published Saturday, March 19, 2016 2:48PM MDT
Last Updated Saturday, March 19, 2016 6:49PM MDT
Horse Racing Alberta (HRA) and the Government of Alberta have reached a new 10-year agreement that aims to ensure the industry remains sustainable.
The arrangement, which replaces the previous agreement that expires at the end of this month, will see a reduction in the percentage of slot machine revenue allocated to Horse Racing Alberta. The government says the move reflects its ‘focus on responsibly managing provincial finances during the economic downturn’.
“This renewed partnership with HRA supports rural Alberta and prevents loss of jobs and livelihood at a time of economic uncertainty,” explained Minister of Finance Joe Ceci during Saturday’s announcement at Century Downs race track near Balzac.
Norm Castiglione, the owner of River’s Edge Racing Stables, applauds the deal.
“It means everything,” said Castiglione. “For a lot of Ag businesses it would be the end of business
River’s Edge Racing Stables races 50 horses and employs 24 people. The business’ owner says the 10-year term of the deal is key.
“If you don’t have a longer agreement it makes no sense,” said Castiglione. “When you’re breeding horses it’s a two to four year process.”
“By the time you get a horse to the racetrack it’s three years after you decided to breed it.”
The new agreement, which does not use tax dollars, will see Horse Racing Alberta’s percentage of slot machine revenue from Racing Entertainment Centres reduced.
Under the current 10 year agreement, HRA receives 53.67 per cent of net revenue.
The new agreement will see the percentage reduced as follows:
- 2016-2017 50 per cent
- 2017-2018 45 per cent
- 2018-2026 40 per cent
“Like anything else, you’d love more,” said Rich LeLacheur, HRA’s chair, “but it’s something we feel we can live with as an industry.”
LeLacheur says times are tough for the horse racing industry citing the impending closure of Northlands horse racing track at the conclusion of the 2016 season.
The industry has struggled of late as slot revenues have diminished and the sport’s fan base continues to age without an influx of younger fans.
“We have to do things differently,” concedes LeLacheur. The chair of HRA says increasing online betting and devising ways to attract new clientele to Racing Entertainment Centres are necessary steps to ensure the industry’s health.
According to the government, the agreement will directly support 1,600 jobs in Alberta at the province’s five racetracks.