When the state Racing Commission approved the Canterbury Park/Mystic Lake deal this week, some were concerned that it might be trouble for Minnesota’s other horse racing park, Running Aces Harness Park.
Not to worry, says Running Aces Board Member John Derus. He’s the former longtime Hennepin County commissioner. “We’re alive and well.”
For years, Canterbury and Running Aces had worked together to get a racino bill passed that would have allowed them to put slot machines at their sites. That would have raised millions for the horse racing industry and millions for the state coffers.
But Canterbury officials decided the racino wasn’t going to happen and entered into an agreement with the Mdewakanton Sioux Community, which operates the Mystic Lake casino. Canterbury agreed to drop the racino effort and the tribe — which long fought the racino bill for competitive reasons — will contribute tens of millions of dollars for racing purses.
Derus had criticized the agreement at Wednesday’s Racing Commission hearing, asking for a delay in approval until more information was available.
Derus told the commissioners:
“I don’t know what the rush to judgment is. We hope you’ll consider the damage this could do to us.”
“Everyone thinks this is the best thing since sliced bread. We feel like we’re the red-headed stepchild living in the attic.”
Now, Derus tells me, the harness track — located in Columbus, near Forest Lake just north of the Twin Cities — will pursue racino legislation on its own. And in the meantime, it’s doing well with its live racing, simulcasts and card room.
“Some think the deal between Canterbury and Mystic Lake means the end of Running Aces,” he said. “Well, we had our best year ever last year, and we’re doing well now. We’ll be fine.”
He said he was disappointed that the Racing Commission approved the agreement on a 5-3 vote.
“We wanted a delay. There are a lot of unanswered questions about this,” he said.
He wonders about the legal aspects of the new partnership between Canterbury and its new tribal partners.
Derus said the racino legislation was close to passing in the Legislature, despite the strong opposition from Indian tribal gaming interests. And he thinks there’s a chance it will pass eventually. He said a racino would generate millions for the state — for a stadium or for schools — and would be paid for only by those who choose to gamble.
In the meantime, he said he wishes Canterbury well in its new partnership.
“I hope it works out,” he said.