A voice familiar to a generation of Winnipeggers will now be calling the shots -- instead of just the races -- at Assiniboia Downs.
Darren Dunn, the Voice of the Downs for a quarter-century, was appointed chief executive officer of the Portage Avenue thoroughbred racetrack in an announcement Wednesday.
With the appointment, Dunn has now made a complete bottom-to-top run through the Downs ranks, from his first job as a lowly press box runner in 1982 to the track's most powerful position today.
The move promotes Dunn from his former position as director of operations and re-creates the Downs position of CEO, which existed briefly in the mid-1990s. Sharon Gulyas, the general manager of the Downs since 1995, moves to the position of vice-president of finance and gaming. The general manager position has now been eliminated.
While he has worked at just about every conceivable job there is at the Downs, Dunn is best known as the track announcer for the past 25 years. He called his 15,000th race just last summer and is widely regarded as one of the premier track announcers in all of North America.
Dunn said he has agreed to continue, albeit temporarily, as the track announcer. "I've committed to call the races for two more years, at most, but preferably one more year," Dunn said Wednesday.
Whenever he finally moves down from the booth permanently, Dunn's voice will not go silent. As CEO of the Downs, Dunn becomes the track's point man on negotiating a long-delayed new gaming agreement with the province.
An expensive study commissioned by the province that was released in 2008 found the Downs generates a $50-million annual economic impact for the province. The study's authors found the non-profit operation desperately needs a new long-term gaming agreement with the province if it's going to survive.
Downs executives have been waiting for the province to act on their own report ever since. "We're now rounding the turn on Year 3 of this thing," said Dunn, "and we need to get something done."
Presently, the track is operating on year-to-year agreements with the province that give Downs management a portion of the profits from the 140 VLTs the province has installed at the track. The track's proceeds from those machines are in turn plowed back into the facility and the on-track product.
Unlike the Bombers, who received a $100-million handout from the province this month, Dunn says the track has never asked for a dime of tax money and indeed continues to make the province money in VLT proceeds, provincial takeouts on every wager placed at the track and PST on sales.
"All we want," Dunn said, "all we've ever wanted, in fact, is to retain more of the income that we're generating on our property."