Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Province, track at work on new deal

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IS there a deal in the works between the provincial government and Assiniboia Downs that will finally secure the long-term viability of the Downs?

The NDP's Jim Rondeau says there is and it could be just a matter of days before it is unveiled. Harvey Warner, president of the Manitoba Jockey Club, says he's not sure what Rondeau is talking about -- but, just the same, he hopes Rondeau is right.

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"I wish I knew," Warner laughed when asked what Rondeau was referring to.

Rondeau, the minister of science, technology, energy and mines and the MLA for Assiniboia, caused a bit of a stir -- and an awkward moment -- when he used his speech during the Downs news conference to announce that a new government partnership with the Downs is about to be announced.

"I was hoping a week ago we could make the announcement" on Wednesday, Rondeau told the news conference. "I understand the announcement is imminent."

The Downs has long sought a new partnership with the province, built on a long-term gaming deal that allows the track to compete on an even footing with the province's casinos.

A study commissioned by the province in 2007 found the Downs has an economic impact in the province of $50 million annually and found the existing funding arrangement -- where the Downs gets a portion of the profits from VLTs on the track's property -- woefully inadequate.

The report studied a number of options, including giving the track a full-blown casino -- as the province had promised a few years ago but then reneged on -- or giving the Downs a much more lucrative take of the VLTs on its property.

With the report as the backdrop, Warner said negotiations are ongoing with the province for a new long-term deal he hopes will give the Downs the financial security it needs to make much-needed capital improvements and adapt to an increasingly competitive gambling environment.

But an imminent deal? "We're still in meetings, we're still in negotiations," said Warner.

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

 

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 7, 2009 C5

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