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The Manitoba government is considering some horse-trading in how it funds the struggling local horse racing industry.
Consultants from BluSlate Inc. compiled a 125-page report — requested in March and published Friday — which recommended the province spend annually about $600,000 more than it already does to support thoroughbred, standardbred and Manitoba Horse Racing Commission programs.
According to the report, the impact to the provincial treasury was expected to be roughly $10.2 million in 2017-18 in the form of funding, settlements, grants and VLT operator revenue. The study recommends a streamlined structure which would replace the current funding model, mainly with annual grants, while pushing the total number to $10.8 million.
“What is important to underscore here is that the proposed public investment… will produce an economic dividend much larger that the required investment of tax dollars,” the report states. “Further, we do not believe horse racing can survive in Manitoba absent both this investment and this improved accountability framework.”
BluSlate estimates the current annual economic impact of horse racing in Manitoba to be some $125 million to $142 million, with total taxes generated ranging from $34.5 million to $40.7 million.
The review cost $135,000 and was submitted to Agriculture Minister Ralph Eichler, who acknowledged the horse racing industry “has been facing significant financial challenges.”
“Our government will review the recommendations so that we can ensure the horse racing industry remains on solid footing now and in the future,” he said in a prepared statement.
Eichler was unavailable for an interview Friday, according to his press secretary, who said the minister will be meeting with affected stakeholders in the coming days before commenting further.
Darren Dunn, chief executive officer of Assiniboia Downs, declined to be interviewed, wanting to read the review in-depth and meet with the minister first.
Peguis First Nation Chief Glenn Hudson didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Peguis members were interviewed for the review, as they have partnered with Assiniboia Downs in recent years to produce events. They are interested in continuing work with the racetrack, according to the report.
“We came away encouraged from our discussions with Peguis First Nation. They are keenly interested in developing the property and finding ways to draw more people to the site,” the consultants wrote.
Other recommendations in the review included extending rural racing circuits to 16 days per season from 10, and reorganizing management models for the standardbred and thoroughbred racing divisions.
“In our experience, few horse racing industries would have continued under the uncertainty that the Manitoba industry has experienced. It is to the credit of many individuals that difficulties have been overcome and racing persists,” the authors concluded.
“Manitoba horsepersons are tough, committed and determined. Given the opportunity, we believe they will proudly carry on the traditions of horse racing in Manitoba. But they can’t do it alone.”
Jessica Botelho-Urbanski covers the Manitoba Legislature for the Winnipeg Free Press.