Efforts to pass a sports betting bill in Minnesota earlier this year failed when tribal gaming leaders and representatives of the state’s racing industry could not reach an agreement on a bill. The two sides haven’t met since, but the CEO of Canterbury Park tells MinnesotaBets there’s still time for discussions before lawmakers reconvene in St. Paul next February.
“I don’t know that there will be or won’t be an interest on the side of the tribes to have a direct meeting, but certainly there are legislators that are interested in trying to find a solution,” Randy Sampson said in an interview on Monday.
The crux of the issue remains the same. Minnesota’s 11 tribal gaming nations, which operate 19 casinos across the state, want exclusivity regarding licenses. Both Canterbury, a thoroughbred track southwest of Minneapolis and St. Paul, and Running Aces, a harness track north of the Twin Cities, want licenses, too, because of concerns that legalized Minnesota sports betting will cut into their business. Besides racing, both tracks also offer card table games at their establishments.
Minnesota’s legislature this year was under full Democratic-Farmer-Laborer control for the first time since 2014. Democrats favor tribal exclusivity, but not all Democratic senators support expanded gaming. There are Republicans who support sports betting, but they want a bill that includes the tracks.
The compromise lawmakers sought earlier this year would have given tribes exclusivity in exchange for the tracks receiving a dedicated portion of the tax revenue generated by sports betting. However, the tracks and horsemen balked at that funding, eventually being capped at $3 million annually after reaching $20 million.
However, Sampson remains optimistic that a solution can be found allowing tracks to partner with Minnesota sports betting apps and operators.
Handle Drops In First Year After Mystic Lake Deal Ends
Even without sports betting in the state, Sampson told MinnesotaBets that it is already impacting his track. Canterbury’s summer meet ended earlier this month, and its all-sources handle fell by more than 40% from the 2022 meet.
“It was virtually all out of state,” he said. “It wasn’t handle in Minnesota that was the decline on our racing. It was out of state, and I believe that some of that is due to the proliferation of sports betting in other states that are now betting less on Canterbury’s races.”
This year’s meet was also the first for Canterbury since its 10-year deal with Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, which operates the Mystic Lake Casino Hotel in nearby Prior Lake. The multi-million-dollar deal signed in 2012 allowed the track to boost purses, which helped attract owners and trainers to race their horses in exchange for not pursuing expanded gaming.
While Sampson couldn’t put a figure on sports betting’s impact on the out-of-state handle, he said it does bolster his belief that legalized Minnesota sports betting would impact betting on races. He also wasn’t sure exactly how long horse racing could last in the state if it was excluded from participating in sports betting.
Other Threats Face Canterbury Park
Revenue from Minnesota sports betting could help Canterbury Downs and the state’s horse farms, which Sampson described as experiencing “a real crisis” due to the number of foals being born. Fewer foals mean fewer horses available for racing in the years ahead.
Those are just a couple of the issues that threaten the long-term viability of the track. Others include a crowded summer racing season in the Midwest, which means Canterbury must compete with Prairie Meadows in Iowa and Hawthorne Park in Illinois for horses. Sampson also noted that several horsemen ship their horses to Minnesota from Turf Paradise in Arizona. However, Turf Paradise recently announced it would close, and Sampson fears those trainers and owners may move their operations to New Mexico, which he said has more of a year-round circuit.
There’s also a looming threat in Nebraska, the result of casino gaming being legalized in that state.
“That’s going to create another competitive situation in the summer for recruiting horses,” he said. “So, it’s clearly a situation where, without some additional resources, it’s going to be harder and harder to put on a credible race meet.”
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