District 55A Rep. Brad Tabke, DFL-Shakopee, and District 55B Rep. Tony Albright, R-Prior Lake, are working on a stripped bill to help Canterbury Park earn a little bit of cash amid a season that could continue without fans. The stripped bill is a far cry from the original bill that failed on the Senate floor earlier this session, which would have allowed for Minnesotans to wager on Canterbury horses online this summer.
Minnesota’s current horse racing laws require that its race tracks — Canterbury and Running Aces in Columbus — hold at least 50 race days a year in order to have a card casino. This bill, if passed, would temporarily reduce the required number of race days, although Canterbury spokesman Jeff Maday said the park does not expect to reduce its race days below that number.
The bill would also lower some of the overhead fees that Canterbury and Running Aces normally pay to the Minnesota Racing Commission each year. That money will be shouldered by the increased profits maintained by the Advance Deposit Wagering, or online wagering, in which ADW regulators would have to temporarily pay 2% of its profit in fees to the state instead of 1%.
Current law requires in-person betting for anyone in Minnesota who wants to bet on in-state horse races. But if racing fans in Minnesota wanted to bet on a race going on in Phoenix, or vice versa, that would be illegal. The original House bill introduced by Albright and Tabke offered temporary provisions allowing for remote, in-state horse betting, which would have allowed Canterbury to profit off in-state horse betting via the internet or telephone. The stripped version of the bill offers fewer forms of relief for Minnesota’s two horse racing tracks, but it’s better than nothing, Tabke said.
Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association lobbyist Cort Holten told the House Finance Committee May 7 that this season is looking to be a “financial disaster” for Canterbury and Running Aces.
“Unlike professional football, basketball or baseball, all of our revenue is derived from the activities that live fans contribute when they’re at the venue,” Holten said. “That portion is not in the bill, which is unfortunate.”
Canterbury’s revenue for the month of March — when Canterbury closed its doors — was down 50% from 2019.
On April 1, the park announced 850 unpaid furloughs.
“I think any time that all of your business’ revenue streams are closed, you’re trying to figure out how to take care of all of your stakeholders,” Vice President of Racing Operations Andrew Offerman said. “So trying to figure out what’s within our power to try to mitigate that damage is at the forefront of our mind.”
Canterbury, horse owners, trainers and jockeys split about 17% of the cut of in-person wagering at the track. With non-Minnesota residents betting online or over the phone, the track and horsemen will only get between 4% and 5% of the cut, Offerman said.
If Minnesota residents were able to bet remotely, the track and horsemen would get about 8% of the cut.
Offerman said the track is looking at creative ways to up its revenue stream this summer, such as drive-through wagering.
“We think as long as there’s an opportunity for curbside pickup of meals, some form of drive-up or drive-through wagering may be a good fit for some of our customers,” he said.
Tabke said the reason the original bill did not pass was because some people believed allowing for remote, in-state horse wagering was looked on as an expansion of gambling by the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association.
Albright said at the house finance committee meeting that while the original bill was more comprehensive, “we find ourselves in a number of situations where we have to find a resolution of those differences. This bill does find a resolution of those differences that would allow for the racing season to commence, hopefully very soon.”
Tabke said Senate District 55 Rep. Eric Pratt, R-Prior Lake, is currently running the amended bill through the Senate.