Canterbury Park got final approval Monday to begin its live racing season, as the Minnesota Racing Commission voted unanimously to green-light a 52-day schedule. That allowed track officials to turn their full attention to the logistics of Wednesday’s opening day, including the introduction of a novel concept: walk-up wagering.
The Shakopee track is setting up self-service wagering machines in a ticket office near the grandstand entrance. That will allow fans to bet on Canterbury’s races, even if they aren’t among those invited to come inside. Under new state guidelines announced Friday, a maximum of 250 people can attend the races, and Canterbury will choose the lucky few from its database of high-stakes horseplayers.
Last week’s surprise executive order put Canterbury among a handful of U.S. tracks open to spectators. Andrew Offerman, Canterbury’s vice president of racing operations, said the track might be able to expand the attendance cap as soon as next week.
Monday, after clearing the final hurdle to live racing, he got back to the business of preparing for a much-awaited — if modest — opening day.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a sigh of relief,” Offerman said. “But it feels like now, we’re able to focus on getting back to what racing is about, which is putting on a show.
“Everyone is pitching in. It’s been a team effort to do everything we’ve done to get ready in a short period of time. There’s a lot to do, but in a typical opening weekend, we’d draw 20,000 people for Kentucky Derby day. I’m confident we can handle 250, even though it’s a unique setup.”
The racing commission’s vote was largely a formality. Gov. Tim Walz already had given the go-ahead for live racing to start, and it was expected the commission would follow suit. It also unanimously approved a 50-day racing season for Running Aces, the harness track in Columbus, from June 20-Oct. 4.
Canterbury will start the season with nine-race cards Wednesday and Thursday. Both days drew more than 80 entries each, a strong number, and the races will be simulcast to more than 200 out-of-state locations. By adding walk-up wagering, more Minnesotans will be able to bet, too.
State law does not allow Minnesotans to wager online or by phone on races held in the state, so track officials have been studying ways to let people place bets on the grounds without coming inside. They considered drive-through wagering in the valet parking lot, but that space is now needed to park fans’ cars.
Under the walk-up plan, customers can use either an automatic teller machine or wager through Canterbury’s phone app. It will be open from 11:30 a.m. to the end of the Canterbury race card on Wednesday and Thursday.
“It will be outside, with physically distanced lines,” Offerman said. “This should provide the ability to wager for people who can’t attend the races, or who aren’t comfortable being back in a public environment.
“We’ll see what the response is this week, and adjust service possibilities or hours based on demand. I’m optimistic it will have enough of an audience to be viable, at least for this summer.”
Offerman said Canterbury also considered setting up large TVs in the parking lot, so fans could both watch and wager outside the gates. It was determined to be too costly, and it likely would have run afoul of a Shakopee city ordinance prohibiting tailgating. That plan might be revisited later, Offerman said.
The number of spectators could expand as soon as next week, when Canterbury hosts races Tuesday through Thursday. The new state guidelines, which go into effect Wednesday, allow a maximum of 250 people in “individual areas within a single venue.”
During the first two days of racing, fans will be restricted to the third-floor clubhouse, while horse owners, trainers and other staff must remain on the first floor. Offerman said Canterbury is working to create additional areas on its large property that could accommodate 250 people each.