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Downs may lose betting licence Jan. 1

Commission demands info about venture with Peguis

The Manitoba Horse Racing Commission may pull Assiniboia Downs' licence for simulcast betting Jan. 1. The jockey club refuses to talk about a joint venture with Peguis.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

The Manitoba Horse Racing Commission may pull Assiniboia Downs' licence for simulcast betting Jan. 1. The jockey club refuses to talk about a joint venture with Peguis.

Assiniboia Downs could start the new year without a licence for simulcast horse-race betting.

The Manitoba Horse Racing Commission said Tuesday it will suspend the licence Jan. 1 if the Manitoba Jockey Club doesn't come clean on a joint venture it has with Peguis First Nation.

Correspondence released by the commission indicates a $15-million mortgage on the Assiniboia Downs property, which was registered Sept. 17. The mortgage is payable without interest in 25 years.

MHRC chairman Tom Goodman said the jockey club has refused to give the commission a copy of its joint-venture agreement with Peguis.

"Until Monday, they were ignoring us," Goodman said. "Now they are refusing. The problem is that there are far more questions than answers. In fact, there are no answers."

Correspondence released by the MHRC shows executive director Larry Huber wrote to jockey club CEO Darren Dunn Dec. 9 saying the commission is concerned the mortgage could be used to transfer ownership of the race track without securing MHRC's approval.

By law, the commission must approve the transfer of ownership of the Downs.

"Our concern is that between the mortgage, a very unusual mortgage -- $15 million, 25 years and no interest, no payments," Goodman said, "...there is a possibility, I don't know if it is actually happening because I haven't seen the joint-venture agreement, but it wouldn't be the first time a mortgage has been used to change ownership.

"In other words, in 25 years from now they don't make the payment, the mortgagee goes through foreclosure and takes title and we would have no say in it."

Until now, the jockey club has owned Assiniboia Downs and adjacent land and has run the facility since 1993.

Jockey club lawyer Jeff Rath said the mortgage is merely security for a development project for the site between the club and Peguis. The jockey club retains ownership of the site.

"The project is structured in such a way that the MHRC has nothing to be concerned about," Rath said.

Peguis Chief Glenn Hudson said an announcement on the future of Assiniboia Downs will be made Thursday.

"There is a plan in place and certainly we'll speak on it on Thursday," he said.

The Free Press reported last May the jockey club and Peguis First Nation were in the final stages of talks to put up a new hotel and convention centre on the 56-hectare parcel of land the track controls. MJC officials said the partnership would be a major step toward securing the future of live horse racing in Manitoba.

Peguis is not short of cash. In 2010, the federal government paid out $118 million to the band for a land claim settlement. The settlement was the biggest compensation of its kind in Canada and capped a bitter chapter in the band's history. In 1907, the Peguis band was stripped of fertile farmland near Selkirk and forced to move on to scrub land 200 kilometres north of Winnipeg.

The about-to-be-announced deal between the club and Peguis is the latest chapter in an ongoing dispute between the jockey club and the province over the Selinger government's plan to cut $5 million in video-lottery-terminal revenue to the Downs.

The jockey club argues the cut was part of a plan by the province to have the Red River Exhibition Association (RREA) take over Assiniboia Downs.

Garth Rogerson, CEO of the RREA, best known for putting on the Red River Exhibition every June, presented the province with a proposal a year ago to turn the area into a "multi-purpose entertainment destination centre," including shows, concerts and other events that would support live horse racing.

The jockey club is suing the province and the Red River Ex for $350 million. The club is seeking another $15 million from the Red River Ex and Rogerson. Those matters remain before the courts.

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

Do you believe the Manitoba Jockey Club and Peguis First Nation have a solid vision for Assiniboia Downs? Join the conversation in the comments below.

History

Updated on Wednesday, December 18, 2013 at 6:47 AM CST:
Replaces photo, adds question for discussion

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