The Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe and Canterbury Park have reached the state’s first deal between a tribal casino and a racetrack.
The agreement signed Wednesday will allow the band to simulcast horse races at its Northern Lights Casino in Walker, using a feed from Canterbury Park in Shakopee. If the Minnesota Racing Commission and National Indian Gaming Commission agree to the deal, the casino could begin broadcasting races — everything from the Kentucky Derby to livestreams from Canterbury — within months.
“It’s very exciting for us,” said Canterbury Park CEO Randy Sampson, who has been working to forge a tribal partnership since the state legalized casino simulcasting in 2012. “This is a chance to expose horse racing to a new part of Minnesota and get people enthused about horse racing.”
The deal will require approval by state and tribal gambling authorities.
“There is significant interest in live horse racing in northern Minnesota, so we see a great opportunity to meet customer demand and continue to support our mission of community development,” Leech Lake chairwoman Carri Jones said in a statement. “We are thrilled to create these agreements with Canterbury Park.”
Pluses for both
For Leech Lake, racetrack betting at Northern Lights will mean new jobs at the casino and new money coming in to fund housing, infrastructure and social services for the 9,000-member band.
For Canterbury Park, which will manage the race broadcasts in exchange for a smaller cut of the wagering revenue, it means a fresh stream of money coming in to bulk up its purses and give owners a reason to race in Minnesota.
“We’re just very happy to be working with Canterbury and we think this is a really good example of Indian gaming working with private business in the state of Minnesota,” Leech Lake legal director and senior tribal attorney Lenny Fineday said. “We’re really envisioning a really successful long-term relationship.”
Years of strife
The accord comes after years of strife between casino and racetrack interests. As racetrack attendance shrank and purse sizes dwindled, Minnesota’s two racetracks lobbied hard to legalize slot machines at the racetracks — a move the tribal casinos strongly opposed. Two years ago, the Legislature signed off on a compromise that cleared the way for casinos and racetracks to cut deals for racing simulcasts, with a share of the profits going to bulk up the purses at the racetracks.
Soon afterward, Canterbury Park forged a 10-year cooperative marketing agreement with the neighboring Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux. In exchange for Canterbury’s pledge to drop its racino campaign, the tribe will pump tens of millions of dollars into the purses. Since the deal, Canterbury reports that the number of thoroughbred foals born in Minnesota has surged from a low of 90 to more than 200.
The Minnesota Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, the Minnesota Quarter Horse Racing Association and Leech Lake signed a purse fund contribution agreement that will use simulcast wagering revenue from Northern Lights to increase live racing purses at Canterbury Park.
Sampson said other tribal casinos have expressed interest in cutting a simulcast deal with Canterbury Park.
“These are great locations to expose new people to horse racing and give people that are already race fans a place to go,” Sampson said. “We hope that once this is approved, there will be other tribes.”