A Minnesota horse racing track is getting a major financial boost from a former competitor.
The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community says it will spend $75 million over the next decade to subsidize prize purses at nearby Canterbury Park. In return, Canterbury has agreed to oppose any legislative effort to establish trackside casinos, known as racinos.
The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community runs the Mystic Lake Casino in Prior Lake. The Canterbury Park racetrack is four miles due north from there.
To boost revenue, Canterbury had long sought permission from the legislature to add slot machines at the track, which the tribe has consistently opposed. But now the fight is over, said Canterbury Park president Randy Sampson.
"Canterbury Park will no longer seek authority to operate a racino, and we will ask our legislative authors to stand down on the issue," Sampson said. "To be clear we will oppose new forms of gaming that are inconsistent with the intent of this agreement."
That means Canterbury Park will oppose not only racinos, but any other plan to expand gambling in the Twin Cities.
Sampson said Canterbury's goal never was to operate a casino, just a first-class horse-racing facility. But that's been difficult, he said, because with purses down it's hard to attract the best horses and jockeys. However, he said if the state racing commission approves the agreement with the tribe, purses will more than double within a few years.
"With the ability to pay competitive purses, we're looking at having world-class racing here in just a few years," Sampson said.
Canterbury has long looked to the legislature to help enrich purses. Legislation signed last month by Gov. Mark Dayton allows horse tracks to add more card tables and casinos to simulcast horse races. As the legislation moved through, Canterbury Park and the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community began working on this multimillion-dollar agreement.
The tribe only opposed expanding gambling at the track, and never horse racing itself, said Edward Stevenson, president and CEO of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community Gaming Enterprise.
He said the deal, though large, is not a buyout but will help promote the southwest Twin Cities metro as a gambling destination.
"On a good race day at Canterbury Park, we'd anticipate 10,000 to 12,000 fans," Stevenson said. "We're hoping that when they finish enjoying a day at the races, they'll come back down to Mystic Lake or Little Six casino and enjoy themselves there. So, obviously there's a cross-marketing opportunity.
The tribe will spend $8.5 million over 10 years on joint marketing with Canterbury Park, Stevenson said.
But a representative of Minnesota's other horse track is wary of the deal.
"Mdewakanton has controlled the state now for 15 years, and now they're buying off some of the competition, said Dick Day, a lobbyist for Running Aces Harness Park in the north metro and a longtime supporter of racinos.
Day says the deal between Canterbury and the tribe is bad for Minnesota taxpayers because it will make expanded gambling, as well as the accompanying tax revenue, less likely.
"In this deal, how do Minnesotans come out? I guess they have a horse racing track that'll have better horses, and that's good," Day said. "But basically you still have the monopoly that's in place that probably just got stronger."
The deal needs approval from the Racing Commission, but Day said Running Aces will not try to oppose it. He said Running Aces could still make a similar agreement of its own with an Indian casino in northern Minnesota.
While representatives at both Canterbury Park and the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community say they'll be glad to spend less money lobbying state lawmakers, both say it will still be necessary to fight off competition and protect their newly shared turf.