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Downs scrambling to deal with $5-million budget cut

TUESDAY'S provincial budget did exactly what Manitoba Finance Minister Stan Struthers promised it would do -- slash $5 million from the budget of Assiniboia Downs.

But exactly how and when the province intends to slash those funds remains very much an open question.

Assiniboia Downs CEO Darren Dunn declined to comment Wednesday, but sources indicated that the track's management has not been given any further details on how or when the cuts to their budget will be made.

The track derived about $6.5 millon of its budget in 2012 from its enhanced cut of the 140 VLTs it operated for the province at its Portage Avenue facility. It received another $2.3 million from the province in the form of a rebate of the pari-mutuel levy that the province levies on every horse racing wager in Manitoba.

It wasn't immediately clear in Tuesday's budget how the province intends to strip out $5 million from those funds and Struthers' budget statement, which included only a very brief reference near the end to the Downs cuts, did not clear up his plans.

"This year," Struthers said in his statement, "we will reduce public subsidies to horse racing and direct resources to priority services through legislated changes to the Pari-Mutuel Levy Act and the Manitoba Jockey Club VLT Siteholder Agreement."

Whatever form the cuts take, the MJC is going ahead both with its lawsuit against the province -- set down for a hearing on April 26 -- and with their live racing season, which is set to begin on May 5.

In order for live racing to occur, the province will need to have in place a Manitoba Horse Racing Commission and racing stewards. Stonewall lawyer Tom Goodman is the new MHRC chairman and the new vice-chairman is Brian Billeck, a former president of the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association.

It wasn't immediately clear this week if the MHRC has hired stewards for the upcoming live meet and executive director Larry Huber could not be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon.

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

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