Dispute over horse racing revenues heads to Halifax court
A dispute among Nova Scotia racecourses over betting revenue will be heard before a judge this week.
Truro Raceway is seeking a stay in a decision by the Atlantic Provinces Harness Racing Commission that would spread some revenue more evenly across the province.
The other two racecourses in the province are Northside Downs and Inverness Raceway, both located in Cape Breton. They successfully argued before the commission in November that revenue from online and telephone betting was being disproportionately distributed to Truro.
Anthony Stymest, Truro Raceway’s president and director, said it would be detrimental to their business if the decision stood.
“We believe the Race Commission made a decision without a study of the impact it will have, the negative impact it will have on Truro Raceway and the negative impact it will have on the industry as a whole,” Stymest said.
Online and phone betting in the province runs through a website called HPIbet.com.
The site allows anyone in Nova Scotia to bet on horse racing anywhere in North America. Portions of revenue are collected based on weather location.
Under the current distribution system, 63 percent goes to Truro Raceway, 22 percent to Northside Downs and 15 percent to Inverness Raceway.
The new ruling allocates revenue based on area codes.
Under the new system, Truro would receive the revenue from all of mainland Nova Scotia except for a few Dartmouth area codes. These would go to the two Cape Breton tracks.
The Nova Scotia government also subsidizes the harness racing industry with a $1 million fund. In 2022, this funding was split evenly across the three tracks.
In court documents filed in the suspension motion, Truro Raceway said the new system would result in a loss of about $133,000 in revenue per year.
That loss would have far-reaching career implications, Stymest said. He said it would reduce this year’s list of race events from 31 to 14.
“And it’s just snowballs from there,” Stymest said.
He said it would also mean downsizing. He said mainland people who make a living from the industry would be affected.
“An owner can’t pay his racing bills 14 times a year when you have to keep a horse 52 weeks a year,” Stymest said. “So eventually they will take their horses to other jurisdictions to pay the costs.”
Northside operator says the track deserves more
Joel LeBlanc, chairman of Harness Racing Cape Breton, which operates Northside Downs, said the track earns more from betting revenue since nearly a quarter of it is generated in his area
“Of course, having a formula that reflects where the revenue is being generated from should be a big factor here, and that wasn’t the case with the previous agreement,” LeBlanc said.
LeBlanc said the higher revenue would help expand operations and host more events. Even with the reallocated funds, he said, there shouldn’t be an all-or-nothing situation for any track.
“It’s not a groundbreaking amount of dollars that basically either puts one track in huge surplus and puts another track out of business,” LeBlanc said. “A fairer distribution of these funds will allow all three railways to benefit.”
The motion will be heard in a Halifax court on February 2.
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