Though the Minnesota Racing Commission is among the state agencies that could be closed in the event of a government shutdown, Canterbury Park officials are asking that the Shakopee track be allowed to continue operating because it pays for regulatory services in advance.
Canterbury President Randy Sampson said on Thursday that he is hopeful the track's appeal will be successful, though the process for granting it remains unclear. The Racing Commission is on the list of agencies that would be closed on July 1 under a shutdown proposal outlined on Wednesday by Gov. Mark Dayton. It oversees stewards, track veterinarians and other services required by law during Canterbury's live racing season. The track pays for those functions, and it has already funded them through July.
If Canterbury does not receive the go-ahead to continue operating, Sampson said he believes it would be the largest private business forced to close because of the government shutdown.
Should the track close even for a short time, Sampson said, it could imperil the entire 62-day racing season, which was set to run from May 20 to Sept. 5.
If the track is forced to close, its 1,100 employees would be laid off, and hundreds of trainers, jockeys and others involved in racing would be idled. Horsemen could not afford to remain idle and would move on to other tracks; if the season resumed, it's uncertain how many would return, which could leave Canterbury with too few horses to conduct racing.
"Our argument is that we have already funded, and fund on a continual basis, the commission's expenses," Sampson said. "There is no money that needs to come from the [state's] general fund or the treasury. So it would not be fair or logical to shut down an entire industry when the funding is already in place.
"[The commission] just needs authorization to spend the money it already has. I'm certainly hopeful that based on the discussions we've had with our attorneys, we believe common sense should prevail."
Sampson said that on July 1 each year, Canterbury pays a license fee to fund the basic operations of the Racing Commission for the next 12 months. It also pays a monthly fee to fund other operations during the live racing season, including the stewards who ensure the integrity of racing, the track vets who ensure the horses are healthy and drug-testing costs. Last year, the track paid the commission about $1 million in total fees.
The monthly fees have been paid through July 31. For the track to remain open, the Racing Commission must receive approval to spend those funds. Sampson said the process for gaining that approval is still unclear, but Canterbury's lobbyists and attorneys are preparing briefs to argue their case, and they believe there is precedent for allowing agencies that don't require money from the general fund or treasury to remain open.