Future of horse racing up in the air in Alberta

Click to play video: 'Uncertainty looms over Horse Racing Alberta'
Uncertainty looms over Horse Racing Alberta
WATCH ABOVE: Declining attendance and an expiring gambling revenue deal are just a couple of the challenges facing Horse Racing Alberta these days. Tom Vernon reports – Jan 6, 2016

EDMONTON — With its deal with the province set to expire, the future of Horse Racing Alberta is in jeopardy.

Horse Racing Alberta, which runs most of its races at Northlands, receives half the money earned from slot machines at the race tracks. In 2014, that amounted to more than $20 million. The Alberta Government gets about one-third of the profit, and the remaining money going towards track operations.

“It’s one of the best plans the government’s ever put together,” Kelly Hoerdt, race horse owner, trainer and driver with Bedrock Training Centre, said. Hoerdt employs nine people at the training facility, in an industry that lives and dies on the gaming deal with the province.

But that deal is set to expire in March, and the NDP hasn’t indicated whether or not it’s going to be renewed.

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In a statement to Global News, Finance Minister Joe Ceci said he is committed to working with the industry to ensure a long-term, sustainable future, while making the best use of tax dollars.

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“To not have that MoU (memorandum of understanding) in place would put a lot of people out of jobs,” Hoerdt said. “I think it’s somewhere between 6,000 to 8,000 people that are employed by the racing industry itself.”

Hoerdt said losing the main funding source for his industry would be devastating.

“There’s such a ripple effect from just the horse racing industry alone, and the agricultural part of this province, that would be affected if we can’t get this MoU together,” Hoerdt said.

Hoping to sway public support, Horse Racing Alberta put together a public service announcement to push the benefits of the industry.

And to add more uncertainty, the future at one of its main venues is unclear. Northlands CEO Tim Reid said attendance has been on the way down, and, under the current funding model, horse racing will no longer be profitable in Edmonton by 2018.

“We have options that consider horse racing in the future, but we also have options that consider a future without horse racing,” Reid said.

“The board of directors from Northlands have given us a very, very clear perspective that we will not continue in the racing business if it costs us money.”

There is some hope for the industry, though; after nearly a decade without a track, a new state-of-the-art facility recently opened in the Calgary area.

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With files from Tom Vernon, Global News.

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