Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Downs owner takes fight to court

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With only eight more days until post time at Assiniboia Downs, the Manitoba Jockey Club says Finance Minister Stan Struthers has put the province's entire $50-million horse-racing industry at risk.

MJC lawyer Jeffrey Rath argued in court Friday that Struthers knew there would be "catastrophic" repercussions when he cut the Downs off from $5 million in this month's provincial budget.

Rath said one area Struthers has announced will change is the Pari-Mutuel Levy Act, which returns part of the money from each betting ticket to the horse racing industry for purse support and to help the sport.

But Rath said Struthers has not yet approved the payment of what the levy raised last year. Last year, Assiniboia Downs received $2.3 million from it.

"The jockey club has no idea whether purse support exists," the lawyer told Court of Queen's Bench Justice Bob Dewar during the first court hearing of the jockey club's lawsuit Friday.

The controversy began earlier this year when Struthers told the jockey club, which owns Assiniboia Downs, to turn the facility over to the Red River Exhibition so the province could save the $5-million public subsidy it gives the track annually.

The jockey club said Struthers and an assistant said it was "stupid" for the club to have an agreement with the Peguis First Nation to build a hotel and convention centre on Downs land.

The jockey club argues the money from the province is not a subsidy but cash generated by people who go to the Downs and bet on horses or at one of the VLTs Manitoba Lotteries put there.

The provincial budget stated there would be changes to both the pari-mutuels and the number of VLTs at the Downs, but gave no details.

"This is an attempt by the minister to put as much pressure on the jockey club as possible so it turns over the land and facility to the Red River Ex without any compensation," Rath said.

Government lawyer Denis Guenette said it was premature for the matter to even be in court because the legislation hasn't been changed yet.

"There has been no final decision yet -- that will come when the legislature process has gone through," Guenette said. "It is not for this court to step into the shoes of a minister."

Dewar reserved his decision.

kevin.rollason@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 27, 2013 A12

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Updated on Saturday, April 27, 2013 at 10:28 AM CDT: photo

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