Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Minnesota Budget Impasse Could Close Canterbury Park Midnight Thursday

The shadow of a government shutdown is starting to loom large over Canterbury Park and its harness racing cousin, Running Aces, in Minnesota.  If Democratic Governor Mark Dayton and the Republican leaders of the legislature do not agree on a budget by Thursday, June 30, at midnight, all racing and card club activities will be closed due to the closing of the regulatory authority, the Minnesota Racing Commission (MRC).

The Grade III Northlands Futurity (Quarter Horse) and the Canterbury Park Derby (Quarter Horse) scheduled to be run on July 2 and July 4, respectively, have been moved by Canterbury Park to late Thursday evening, June 30th, ahead of any potential shutdown.  With these star Quarter Horse having future engagements at other racetracks in a few weeks there is no way that these stakes could be rescheduled in the event if a shutdown.  The Thoroughbred races over the holiday weekend, however, are very much in jeopardy. 

Although the MRC is fully funded by fees paid by the racetracks – money paid in advance – the MRC would still be shutdown if that is not prevented by court action.  It appears that any discussion revolves around the word “appropriation”.  The legislation that provided for the self-funding of the tracks also provided for an appropriation of those funds to the Commission as they are collected.  Horsemen’s groups would argue that there is already a “statutory appropriation” of the funds in the enabling legislation so there is no legal need for a bill appropriating the funds and therefore the MRC, and the tracks, should remain open in the event of a government shutdown.  However, in lieu of that position being approved/confirmed by a judge, the MRC will shut down at midnight Thursday, taking down the racetracks with it.

While government officials may feel that a state shutdown over an existing holiday weekend is not really a problem since government is closed anyway, they are not taking into account the havoc this would play on the racing industry.  For Canterbury Park, a business entity, the shutdown over the long weekend would rip away the biggest weekend of racing of the season.  If the track welcomed 15,000 patrons for Father’s Day, I would think a 20,000 person evening for the traditional July 3 fireworks display after the race card is not out of the question.  Handle and concessions that day – and throughout the weekend – are the highest of the season.  Not only would this income be lost, but between the two tracks over 1,000 employees will be laid off. 

There is also the potential that any shutdown would have long lasting effects on racing in Minnesota.  Owners and trainers that have spent up to $900 a head to ship to Canterbury from around the country will be faced with a difficult decision: stay and hope for a short shutdown or move the stock to Chicago, Iowa or elsewhere.  If horses are shipped out, they are not coming back.  There is no lure of large purses to make it worth a “double ship” to Canterbury.  Once these folks are gone, they are gone for the season – and possibly future seasons as well.  Why would you take the risk of this ever happening again, especially if you can run for slot fueled purses in Iowa, Indiana and perhaps even Illinois in the future? The damage that this completely avoidable shutdown would inflict is large.

It is obvious that racing isn’t a “critical” function of the government, but common sense should also dictate that once the state is holding the money that fully pays for the operation of the oversight needed to race and play cards that those services should not be withheld.  Do you think the state would put up for one minute Canterbury being late on its advance payment?  It is time that common sense gets applied to government, even if it is just for a moment, to prevent thousands of layoffs, millions in lost revenue and to avoid the potential long term effects on the racing industry of Minnesota from an unnecessary and avoidable action.

No comments: