The group that operates Running Aces Harness Park will go before the Minnesota Racing Commission on Thursday to respond to a request that its operating license be revoked.
The request was made last month by the Minnesota Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, which represents horsemen at Canterbury Park. It claims that North Metro Harness Initiative, operator of Running Aces, has failed to honor the terms of its license application by halting payments to Canterbury’s purse fund. NMHI stopped the payments last August and has sued the HBPA and Canterbury, seeking to end its financial obligation.
Running Aces also has stopped simulcasting thoroughbred and quarter horse racing after canceling a contract with Canterbury that allowed it to take wagers on those races. Without a contract, state law allows each track to simulcast only the breeds it runs during its live racing season.
Attorney Thomas A. Keller III will represent Running Aces at Thursday’s racing commission meeting. He sent a letter to the commission this week, arguing that the dispute is a private matter that should be resolved in court and that NMHI has not failed to live up to representations made in its license application, as the HBPA alleges.
“North Metro performed exactly as it represented it would,” the letter states. “North Metro made all required payments under the agreement for more than seven years. This is not a case in which North Metro misled or deceived the MRC. … The MRC should give no serious consideration to the HBPA’s request that the MRC revoke North Metro’s license.”
When Running Aces applied for its operating license in 2005, it agreed to pay a portion of its card-club revenues to help fund purses at Canterbury. The HBPA, in turn, dropped its opposition to licensing the harness track. The payments were to continue until legislation was passed to allow the tracks to install slot machines.
Last summer, the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community cut a deal with Canterbury to contribute $75 million to purses over 10 years. In exchange, Canterbury agreed to drop its pursuit of slots and to oppose such legislation in the future. That deal, Running Aces contends, will make it impossible to end its payments to the purse fund — and it filed suit to end the agreement, claiming breach of contract. Hennepin County District Judge Ronald L. Abrams is expected to rule on the matter soon.
At a racing commission meeting last month, HBPA attorney Cort Holten cited a Minnesota law that says a license can be revoked for “failure to perform material covenants or representations made in a license application.” He said ceasing the purse-fund payments constitutes such a failure. Keller’s rebuttal letter said it does not, because the payment agreement was not finalized until after the license application was approved.
Canterbury Park President Randy Sampson said there have been no talks between the tracks to resolve the simulcast issue. Since Running Aces canceled that contract on Feb. 19, it has been unable to simulcast thoroughbred or quarter horse races, and Canterbury cannot simulcast harness races.
Running Aces said in a statement that it wants to eliminate a payment of approximately $150,000 per year to Canterbury, saying it has paid “almost all of its simulcast profitability to Canterbury Park over the past five years.”
Sampson said the interruption of all-breed simulcasting has not significantly affected Canterbury’s purse fund or its finances, though he added that purses at both tracks will be impacted and that the situation “isn’t good for the horse industry.” While harness racing represents a small portion of Canterbury’s simulcast offerings, the majority of simulcast wagering at Running Aces is placed on thoroughbred and quarter horse races.