Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Court no place for jockey club row

Judge advises applying for 2014 racing licence

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A dispute between the Manitoba Jockey Club and its regulator is heading for a photo finish.

The jockey club's interim racing licence is set to expire Friday. At stake is this year's horse-racing season at Assiniboia Downs.

The Manitoba Horse Racing Commission threatened Dec. 17 to suspend the jockey club's simulcast betting licence Jan. 1 if it didn't reveal details of a joint venture with Peguis First Nation.

Two days later, the jockey club and the First Nation announced a project that would see two hotels and a convention and retail space developed at the Downs.

That same day, the MHRC agreed to grant the club an interim licence until Feb. 28 pending the result of a judicial review of the licensing dispute.

On Tuesday, a Court of Queen's Bench judge said the court is the wrong forum to settle the matter, and he advised the jockey club to apply for a hearing with the commission for a 2014 racing licence.

"We'll try to set up a hearing as quickly as possible," Bill Gange, the horse-racing commission's lawyer, said afterwards.

The MHRC is seeking details of a 25-year, $15-million mortgage provided by Peguis to the Downs. The commission is concerned the mortgage could be used to transfer ownership of the racetrack without securing its approval.

The jockey club, a non-profit corporation, took over the ownership of Assiniboia Downs and its adjacent land in 1993. The club had argued in the past it has provided the racing commission with all the necessary information.

Tom Goodman, the horse-racing commission's chairman, was unavailable for comment Tuesday.

Gange said the dispute could be resolved "very quickly" if the club provided the commission with the information it's legally entitled to receive.

He said the commission wants live racing to occur at the Downs this year, but "they (the commissioners) need to be satisfied that they've done their job that is imposed upon them by legislation."

Jeff Rath, a lawyer representing the jockey club, said the organization is working to arrange an emergency hearing with the commission this week.

Both he and Gange suggested the interim licence could be extended.

"I would think in all likelihood while we work these things out that they would be amenable to extending the interim licence," said Rath. "Obviously, if there's no racing at Assiniboia Downs, it's pretty hard for them to justify their continued existence."

The jockey club launched a lawsuit against the Selinger government last spring after the province slashed $5 million in VLT funding from Assiniboia Downs in its provincial budget.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 26, 2014 A5

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