Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Just whose money is it?

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THE provincial NDP has been saying that the Manitoba Jockey Club receives about $9.5 million in "public funding" every year to support thoroughbred horse racing.

The MJC on the other hand, says the NDP is being deliberately -- and demonstrably -- dishonest in calling the money the Downs receives "public funding."

You decide who's right:

Of the $9.5 million the province says the Downs received last year, about $6.5 million was simply the track's take of the profits from the 140 VLTs they operate for the province on Downs property.

That's big money, but the province also makes big money on those same 140 VLTs. One industry analyst estimated the province has earned as much as an additional $4 million a year of their own in profits on the Downs machines. The MJC also paid $500,000 last year for renovations to the VLT lounge.

Did the Downs therefore receive $6.5 million in "public funding?" Or did it actually generate as much as $4 million a year in revenue for the province?

And if the Downs cut of VLT profits is "public funding," how much "public funding" does every bar and lounge in Manitoba with VLTs receive every year? Or what about the Winnipeg Jets? Do the VLTs the province is giving the team's ownership to operate -- which are expected to generate more than $10 million a year for the team -- also represent "public funding"? And, if so, why is a team full of millionaires that is partly owned by Canada's wealthiest billionaire, getting "public funding?"

The Downs received about $2.3 million in transfers from the province last year that was nothing more than the parimutuel levy the province collects on every wager on horse racing made in the province every year.

By statute, this levy cannot be placed into general revenue by the province. It must be used to promote horse racing in Manitoba.

So, to summarize: The province collects a levy on every horse racing wager made in Manitoba; the revenue collected only exists if there is horse racing to wager on; the revenue collected must, by statute, be returned to the horse racing industry.

Did the Downs receive $2.3 million in "public funding"?

The province dumps approximately $500,000 every year into the tiny rural harness-racing circuit. This money, which is several times larger than all the wagers placed on harness racing in Manitoba combined last year, goes directly to harness racing and is never seen by Downs management, which is exclusively involved in thoroughbred racing.

Add all that money up and it equals about $9.3 million. Downs management says they don't know how the province arrives at their $9.5-million figure -- and Finance Minister Stan Struthers was not made available Friday to explain the discrepancy.

-- Wiecek

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 13, 2013 C1

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