It's true. Just ask Finance Minister Stan Struthers.
Struthers has been the Government's point man in a very public battle with the Manitoba Jockey Club over the future of the Assiniboia Downs race track. The government intends to cut what it calls "subsidies" to the Jockey Club by "at least $5 million". To the jockey club, this could mean the end of horse-racing in Manitoba. To the government, this is just cost-cutting:
"We understand that the MJC is disappointed with the government's intentions, but we have a duty to spend public funds responsibly."You see? The government is just being responsible in this time of austerity.
Except ... hang on to your seat ... that's not exactly true! I know .. I am sorry to have shattered your faith in our elected officials. I will make it up to you somehow.
More than one person has pointed out that what the government is calling "subsidies" or "funding" is actually the venue's share of VLT and other gaming revenue collected on-site. One of those people is Wayne Anderson:
"If these funds are grants, then so are the funds flowing to the hotels, legions, aboriginal casinos and the Jets from VLTs, slots, etc."The places receiving this so-called funding includes strip clubs like Teasers, which in addition to featuring "Sleek & Sheek, Sexy, Exotic & Erotic, Applebottom babes, Big bang bootys, MilkJugs, Curvy, Mind Melting Hourglass figures, Long Legged Ladies, Big Bouncing boobs, Shocker Knockers & fun all the way around" also offers VLTs for your gaming pleasure. Each VLT could net Teasers up to $50,000 per year in revenue, thus the government is likely funding "nipple popping snow shows" to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.
Thank you, Stan!
The government's decision to cut revenues to the Manitoba Jockey Club is peculiar, given that the government had only just negotiated a new agreement with them less than two years ago. This agreement allows the MJC to retain a much larger share of their VLT revenues than most institutions. The actual percentage is hard to know without more information, but it's greater than 75% -- probably in the 85-90% range*
It is fair to question whether the MJC should get such a large cut of the revenues. The rationale (in the government's words) was to "strengthen the Assiniobia Downs as a key component of the Manitoba’s diverse tourism, agricultural and thoroughbred industries". The $5 million drop in revenue would essentially put Assiniboia Downs on the same footing as hotels and bars, which get to keep only 20% of the revenue that they generate from VLTs.
Why should the jockey club get a more generous deal? Well for one thing, they may not be able to survive without it. Indeed, the Jockey Club accuses the government of trying to bankrupt it with this move, paving the way for the Red River Exhibition to take over the property. I haven't figured out what vested interest the provincial government has in seeing the Ex control the Assiniboia Downs property, but that appears to be the goal.
Also, horse racing is a small but unique part of the entertainment fabric of this province, and as such it would be hypocritical of the province to not give them a special deal. After all, Manitoba Lotteries is building a dedicated casino, er ... gaming centre, to provide financial support to the Jets.
As an aside, Manitoba First Nations get to keep 90% of their gaming revenue -- everything less a 10% fee to cover administration costs. This increased amount is "provided as a contribution to promote sustainable social and economic benefits and opportunities with the First Nations communities" ... like a vacation to Rome for the Chief, the Chief's wife, and 5 friends. (The government's position in that particular case was that the band can spend the revenue however they wish, but I think most people would prefer that VLT revenues stay within the province to support local communities and institutions, like for example Teasers, where you can see "one of the wettest shows on stage, where the girls take hot steamy wet showers, bathe and washing every succulent curvy part of their sexy moist soft bodes.")
Where was I? Oh yes ... the Mantitoba Jockey Club.
If the government wanted to reduce the Club's share of the revenue for what appeared to be legitimate reasons, I wouldn't be writing this post. If, for example, the government felt that gambling at the Downs was cannibalizing gambling at venues where the government gets a bigger slice of the pie, and could therefore generate more revenue through this action. If that's what they have in mind they've done a poor job articulating it.
In actuality, the government has an interest in supporting gaming activity at Assiniboia Downs because there is money to be made there. Common sense tells you that VLTs are likely to do particularly well at a horse race track where the primary activity is synonymous with gambling.
The numbers support this: VLT revenues at hotels and bars, both inside the city and in small towns, has been on the decline since 2009; while gambling at the Downs has been increasing...
Whatever the government's intentions, it is not going to go as smoothly as they planned. If the Jockey Club is going down, they're going down swinging. This past weekend they printed a half page ad in the Winnipeg Free Press and have launched a lawsuit against the government. Never mess with a Jockey, my mother always told me.
Whether horse racing will survive when all is said and done, I don't know. I suspect it will, even if the Red River Exhibition takes over the race track. The government will ensure that there is some sort of funding through some means.
If not, we have other things in these parts to entertain us. Like strippers.
*MJC's take of VLT revenues in 2010 was $5.5m or 75% of $7.3m total revenues. The current agreement provides the MJC with up to $6.5m, which would be 89% of total revenues if total revenues were to remain steady. source.