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Alberta to pare slots cut for horse racing sector


A renewed 10-year funding agreement for Alberta’s horse racing industry body will see its take from racetrack slot machine revenue cut from almost 52 per cent down to 40 per cent by 2018.

The provincial government, in a release March 19, said its new agreement “will help ensure the viability of Alberta’s horse racing industry and reflects government’s focus on responsibly managing provincial finances during the economic downturn.”

Horse Racing Alberta (HRA), the Edmonton-based not-for-profit body overseeing the racing and racehorse breeding sectors, today gets flow-through support from the Alberta Lottery Fund equal to 51.67 per cent of net revenue from slot machines at the province’s racing entertainment centres (RECs).

The new agreement will see that level cut to 50 per cent in 2016-17, to 45 per cent in 2017-18 and to 40 per cent each year for the years 2018-19 to 2025-26.

HRA chairman Rick LeLacheur, in the government’s release, said the horse racing and breeding industry “is optimistic the government of Alberta has provided our industry with the means to successfully manage and develop the future of horse racing and breeding in the province.”

The length of the agreement, he said, is “essential to the breeding industry, which plays an important role in the economic impact of horse racing in Alberta.”

The new agreement, however, comes on the heels of major redevelopment plans, which won’t involve horse racing, at one of the province’s major horse racing sites.

Northlands, one of Edmonton’s major fair and festival sites and home to Rexall Place and the Edmonton Expo Centre, announced last month it will convert its Northlands Park Racetrack and Casino into an “urban festival site.”

The Northlands Park track’s 2016 season runs from May to October, after which work will begin on the new festival area and public park.

“Obviously we are disappointed in their decision to leave racing at Northlands Park, they have been a strong partner over many years,” HRA said in a statement at the time.

“However, we respect their decision and wish them well in their new endeavours (and) will work with Northlands Park as they transition out of racing to minimize the impact on our industry.”

The province — which in January moved its oversight for Northlands and the Calgary Stampede from the agriculture ministry to the culture and tourism ministry — said March 19 it expects the new slots agreement to directly support 1,600 jobs in Alberta.

“This renewed partnership with HRA supports rural Alberta and prevents loss of jobs and livelihood at a time of economic uncertainty,” provincial Finance Minister Joe Ceci said in the province’s release.

HRA, LeLacheur said, “is confident with this new agreement that the horse racing industry will continue to provide Albertans jobs, along with being an entertainment and racing destination at the four RECs in the province.”

Northlands’ exit from horse racing comes as part of the former agricultural society’s recently-released “Vision 2020” plan, expected to create “new signature athletic and entertainment spaces for Edmontonians.”

Northlands, as part of a “new strategy” for the not-for-profit body’s agriculture work, also announced it will no longer host the annual Northlands Farm and Ranch Show. — Network

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