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.
"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.