Alberta Downs threatening to sue horse racing body

A Lacombe horse track owner is threatening to sue Horse Racing Alberta for more than $8 million in damages for scrapping his 2015 race dates.

A Lacombe horse track owner is threatening to sue Horse Racing Alberta for more than $8 million in damages for scrapping his 2015 race dates.

Alberta Downs owner Bob Allen sent the horse racing body notice last week through his lawyer that a decision not to provide race dates in Lacombe amounted to breach of contract.

Horse Racing Alberta gave the track a 10-year operating licence in 2012 that obligates the organization to provide annual operating funding to the track, Allen contends. As well, he was entitled to off-track betting proceeds within 50 km of the track, says a letter from Calgary lawyer Timothy Boyle, who is representing Allen.

Allen was actively encouraged by Horse Racing Alberta to build his track, which required a lengthy approval process, the letter says.

If the horse racing group doesn’t reinstate Allen’s race days, he is prepared to sue for damages that will likely exceed the $8 million he has invested so far in the harness racing facility just west of Lacombe.

“That’s what I’m planning to do if they don’t come to their senses,” said Allen in an interview on Tuesday.

Allen said there has been no response from Horse Racing Alberta yet.

However, he has been hearing from other horse racing associations who support him in his fight.

Horse Racing Alberta’s move not to provide him with the 22 races he said they earlier agreed to is bad for the industry.

“The horse industry is struggling as we speak, and they’re just making it worse.”

Besides his modern racing venue, many horse owners took advantage of his stabling facilities, he said.

Boyle’s letter says he is prepared to meet with Horse Racing Alberta’s board at any time “should it be prepared to reverse its decision and reinstate our client’s race days and confirm his continued entitlement to off-track betting receipts within his exclusive area.”

The board has until Dec. 19 to respond before or a suit will be filed, he says.

Board chairwoman Shirley McClellan said in an interview last week that the move to remove Alberta Downs from the racing schedule was a business decision based on the cost of operating the facility, which unlike other tracks in the province does not have lucrative slot machines.

McClellan said her organization was committed to the track only on a year-to-year basis and had made no long-term commitment.

A new horse racing track and racino with slot machines set to open in Balzac next spring is expected to give the industry a boost and bring horse racing back to the Calgary area for the first time since 2008.

McClellan did not return a call for further comment on Tuesday.

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