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HomeMiscellanyB.C. horse owners, breeders want Great Canadian Gaming to giddyup and go away

B.C. horse owners, breeders want Great Canadian Gaming to giddyup and go away

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Bob Mackin

British Columbia’s thoroughbred horse owners and breeders want to find a new operator for Hastings Racecourse. 

In a letter published June 2, the Canadian Thoroughbred Horse Society, B.C. Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association and Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association of B.C. slammed Great Canadian Gaming Corp. for failing to invest in the East Vancouver track, while watching the value of its stock climb from the company’s expansion in Ontario. 

Hastings Racecourse’s tote board awaits connection to a new system (Mackin)

“The Great Canadian Gaming Corporation has made no secret of its view of the thoroughbred industry’ s future. In an article that appeared in the Vancouver Courier on March 9, 2012, the Great Canadian CEO Rod Baker described thoroughbred racing as “sunsetting “. Great Canadian’s corporate policies would appear to be designed to guarantee that this view becomes reality,” said the letter, published in owner Glen Todd’s newsletter.

“Thus, given GCGC’s palpable lack of interest in racing and its refusal to meet its obligation to make reasonable efforts on behalf of the industry, the thoroughbred associations request that the [British Columbia Horse Racing Industry Management Committee] assist us in finding an operator who wants to be a part of the thoroughbred industry.”

Presidents of the three organizations met May 31 with the committee, which is chaired by B.C. Lottery Corporation CEO Jim Lightbody, to address complaints about the track. The letter said the industry is “being damaged by the ongoing neglect” of Great Canadian. 

“GCGC’s disinterest is manifested by a refusal to make the investments necessary for maintaining a facility that has fallen into a state of disrepair. It can be seen in the current situation at Hastings vis a vis the totalizator (tote) board. The tote board has not functioned at all this season to the frequently and emphatically expressed dismay of Hastings patrons who consider it an essential source of information.”

When city council approved the installation of slot machines in 2004, Great Canadian had promised to build a parkade and renovate the barns, but scrapped those plans in 2011 when it wrote down its assets at the city-owned track. 

The letter said Great Canadian tried to charge stall rent during the 2010 season, until the committee overruled the company. Great Canadian also proposed a 29-day season in 2012, despite the 71-day operating agreement with the city. The committee again overruled Great Canadian to insist on a season that spans six months.

The letter said thoroughbred owners spend $15 million to $20 million a year  on workers, veterinarians, farriers and the purchase of horses and feed from the agricultural sector and need long-term certainty.

“For the industry to advance and continue to provide the jobs and economic activity it generates, changes are required. If GCGC is not committed to the industry, as appears to be the case, another operator should be given the opportunity, along with the financial incentives and structures now available to GCGC.”

David Milburn, president of the Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, said he met with Hastings’ general manager Darren MacDonald and Great Canadian operations vice-president Raj Mutti on June 2 for a tour of the decrepit backstretch. Owners and breeders will meet June 6 to plot their next steps, Milburn said. 

“The meeting was constructive, they did have a walk around. It’s a start, we got their attention with the letter and the executive summary,” Milburn said. “They’re responding in a professional way. They’ve got a lot of ground to make up, we’re a long way apart in the way we think things ought to be running and the way they run it.”

Great Canadian vice-president Chuck Keeling did not respond for comment. 

The 2017 annual report of the Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch said the B.C. horse racing industry employs 2,350 owners, jockeys, drivers, trainers, grooms and exercise drivers. It recorded $70.17 million in wagers at Hastings last year, of which $62.4 million were on simulcast races from other tracks. BCLC allocated 25% of slot machine net revenue from Hastings and Great Canadian’s other track, the standardbred Fraser Downs, to an $11.6 million fund for purses. Great Canadian’s lease with City of Vancouver runs through November 2019. City hall took in $1.1 million from host city royalties last year. 

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