The province has ponied up to keep Alberta’s horse racing industry on track.
Finance Minister Joe Ceci announced the decade-long deal Saturday at Century Downs race track north of Calgary, which will replace the current pact set to expire.
“This new 10-year commitment will continue to support an important economic and cultural piece of rural Alberta and the agricultural sector,” Ceci said.
Horse Racing Alberta (HRA) will receive a cut of the net revenue from slot machines at the province’s four racing entertainment centres.
However, while the industry previously received just shy of 52% of those gaming revenues, the new deal see it begin at 50% this year and gradually shrink to 40% in 2018.
“It’s important that we keep an industry going, but it’s also important that it be affordable to Albertans, and that’s what this new agreement does,” said Ceci.
Rick LeLacheur, chair of the HRA, said even with waning funds the industry will make due, noting the significance of the deal for horse racing in Alberta.
“We’ll deal with the money we have available,” he said.
“I know in government 10 years is a long time for an agreement. But the minister really recognized how important a long-term agreement was to the industry, particularly the breeding industry.
“It just doesn’t happen overnight.”
That sentiment was echoed by stable owner Norm Castiglione.
“When you’re breeding horses, it’s a two-to-four year process each time you breed a horse,” he said.
“By the time you get a horse to the racetrack, it’s three years after you’ve decided to breed it.
“If you don’t have those longer agreements, it makes no sense to put the money into that part of racing.”
Ceci portrayed the deal as an effort to preserve both rural culture and jobs during a difficult economic period.
“As a government, we recognize the importance of horse racing not only from a cultural perspective, but also as a source of livelihood for many Albertans,” Ceci said, adding that 1,600 Albertans are directly employed by the sector, with an additional 7,000 “touched by racing in some way.”
The announcement comes a month after Edmonton’s Northlands race track announced it would close after this season.
LeLacheur pointed out that Northlands CEO Tim Reid is on the HRA board and was aware of the negotiations with the province.
Ceci said he didn’t want to speculate on Northlands’ plans.