Finance Minister Stan Struthers has to obey the law -- at least until he changes it. That was the ruling this afternoon from Justice Robert Dewar in a dispute between the Selinger government and the Manitoba Jockey Club, which operates Assiniboia Downs.
Dewar ordered Struthers to release funds to Assiniboia Downs raised through a levy on wagering at the track, money that supports purse winnings there.
"Governments, and ministers, cannot do anything they please," Dewar stated in a 25-page written ruling released this afternoon.
The Manitoba Jockey Club (MJC) was challenging the Selinger government's plan to slash $5 million in funding the MJC receives through VLT revenues and money distributed by the Horse Racing Commission from a levy on every bet made at the track.
In last month's budget speech, Struthers said the government planned to redirect monies that had been going to the track to other government programs.
The MJC alleged the funding cut is illegal and part of the government's plan to force the club into bankruptcy and turn over Assiniboia Downs to its neighbour, the Red River Exhibition.
The MJC asked the court for an order keeping the money in place until proper negotiations have taken place. The club has also asked the RCMP to investigate its allegations and Struthers's actions.
Dewar said the betting fund was set up to benefit the racing community and Struthers was delaying its release to the MJC because he wanted to spend it elsewhere. However, that money – for now – belongs to the horse-racing community, not the province, Dewar said.
"The province has no proprietary interest in these monies," Dewar stated, and ordered Struthers to release the funds.
Dewar said the VLT revenue also belongs to the MJC through a contract with Manitoba Lotteries. However, Dewar said the government could pass a law which breaks the Lotteries contract and remove the VLTs now at the track. But until that law is passed, Dewar said, the VLT monies belong to the MJC.
Jockey club CEO Darren Dunn said he was relieved with the court ruling, adding the government's actions have scared away horse owners from the track.
Struthers is holding a news conference this afternoon to comment on the court ruling.