Running Aces has misplaced its priorities

Health of the racing industry should come first, says leader of horsemen’s group


Tom Metzen
Guest Writer

In reading Running Aces’ comments in Cliff Buchan’s article on the possible state revocation of the horse track’s license to do business in Minnesota, a reader might think that this is just a business dispute between two competing racetracks. Actually, Running Aces’ license is at risk because they are continuing to fight with the very people they promised to support – the thousands of people employed in Minnesota’s horse industry.

When Running Aces first applied for a license, it was denied for fear that the racetrack would damage the existing strength of Minnesota’s thoroughbred and quarter horse racing. The owners of Running Aces signed a contract with the Minnesota Horsemen’s Benevolent Protection and Association – not Canterbury Park – to directly support racing purses for thoroughbreds and quarter horses. The word “racino” never appears in that contract, because that issue had nothing to do with it.

In 2012, Canterbury Park gave up its long fight for a racino, moving ahead with a purse supplement agreement with the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community. Running Aces not only tried to delay this agreement, but unilaterally ended longstanding contracts that supported Minnesota’s horse industry, including their contract with the HPBA that was critical to receiving their state license. After deciding to end the contract on their own, Running Aces then sued the HPBA in hopes of preventing the revocation of their state license by the Minnesota Racing Commission.

I have found this behavior is par for the course for Running Aces. For years, the primary barrier to a good legislative discussion of racino was the position of Running Aces on the use of racino revenue. While Canterbury Park’s proposals emphasized increasing purses and investing in the horse industry, Running Aces pushed for more profits for racetrack owners. Even today, the Running Aces racino bill at the Legislature creates a two-tiered revenue plan – if you are Running Aces, your racino plan says you get more profits for the owners and a smaller share for purses for the horse industry.

We and the Equine Development Coalition of Minnesota (EDCoM) asked Running Aces to join with us in promoting racino at the race tracks, and they were asked to be a member of EDCoM at no cost to them except to be represented at the Capitol. They refused to participate in this endeavor, free of charge.

If Running Aces doesn’t want to risk losing its license, it should continue to make the payments in the contracts it signs, or it should renegotiate those contracts. I, as president of the HBPA, indicated a willingness to discuss this contract as early as June 2012, but Running Aces never bothered to call. That’s right – when it comes to Minnesota’s horse industry, you can’t even expect a phone call from the owners of Running Aces.

Running Aces also decided to unilaterally end its simulcast agreement with Canterbury Park. This prevents Running Aces from showing thoroughbred and quarter horse races at its racetrack – yet another example of Running Aces’ lack of interest in promoting horse racing. Having offered to sit down and work on this and several other outstanding issues, Canterbury Park is also awaiting a phone call from Running Aces.

The horse breeding and training industry is on the rebound in Minnesota. Stables that have sat empty for years are now full. There is a new energy in our state that extends to tens of thousands of people who are employed to support the redevelopment of our billion-dollar horse industry. Ironically, it seems like the only people who are unhappy about the rebirth of Minnesota horse racing are the owners of Running Aces.

Minnesota’s horse owners understand what’s going on. Running Aces wants to own a casino, and they think owning a horse track is the best way to get that done. That is very unlikely to happen, particularly if Running Aces continues to show that their most important concern is profits, and not supporting a strong horse industry in Minnesota.

Tom Metzen is president of the Minnesota Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association.