Owners of a horse racing track near Lacombe are celebrating a come-from-behind victory to become a racing entertainment centre.
On Wednesday, an Alberta Liquor, Gaming and Cannabis Commission panel reversed a previous rejection of Track on 2 Racing and Event Centre’s racing entertainment centre (REC) ambitions.
The conditional approval means Track on 2 can gallop ahead with its plans to expand its facility at the Highway 2 and Highway 12 interchange into a facility offering a wide range of gaming options.
“We’re very thankful and we’re very excited to move on to the next phase,” said Kurt Belich, who owns Track on 2 with his wife Kyla Belich and Ross Morrison. “We’re the first REC that has been approved in a long time.
“Basically, it’s a casino without live table games at Track on 2,” he said. That’s how we fund our operations and our purses.”
Belich is looking at installing at least 80 slot machines and other electronic gambling machines offering games such as roulette and blackjack inside the existing grandstand. If all goes well, more machines could be added later.
He estimates the racing entertainment centre could pump $30 million into the central Alberta economy and create another 20 year-round jobs. Track on 2 already employs about 50 during the peak summer season.
“I would expect by Sept. 1 we will be open with our new REC,” he said.
Meanwhile, the track is gearing up for another racing season. Elite Indian Racing events are planned for June and a slate of 16 standardbred races will begin running in July.
Concerts by Duane Steele, who will do the music of George Jones and Clayton Bellamy’s homage to Tom Petty are set for July.
The racing entertainment centre will give the horse side of the business a big boost.
“Through the racing entertainment centre it funds operations for the track and it funds operations for the horsemen. So it’s really crucial to the industry so we can generate more purses and more races. We hope to have 30 to 35 race days in the future.
“From the farmers that the horsemen buy their hay from to the veterinarians and the hotels and gas stations, the economic impact in the community is quite large.”
Belich gives the government credit for lifting a moratorium and allowing new casino and racing entertainment centre proposals to come forward. Track on 2’s bid also got plenty of support from Lacombe-Ponoka MLA Ron Orr and the city and county of Lacombe.
Track on 2 first applied for a racing entertainment licence in February 2021 and his proposal had cleared the first three of the four-step approval process when his bid pulled up short. An AGLC board requested more information last December and then on Jan. 28 Track on 2 got the bad news that its application would not go ahead to the final approval stage, which cleared the way for construction and licensing.
The board cited the impact Track on 2 could have on the prospects of the yet-unbuilt Bear Hills Casino by Maskwacis’s Louis Bull Tribe, which opposed the application. Also cited was possible “cannibalization” of gaming revenue from Red Deer’s casinos and negative impact to area charities.
The cost of hooking up Track on 2 with the necessary fibre optics to the AGLC’s network would cost the gaming body $340,000 to $480,000, an AGLC network services manager estimated.
Belich appealed that decision and appeared before an AGLC panel in April, backed up by heavyweight supporters including former deputy premier and Alberta Agriculture minister, as well as past CEO and board chair of Horse Racing Alberta, Shirley McClelland. Horse racing expert and executive director of Alberta Standard Bred Association was also enlisted to help.
In its decision, the panel notes Track on 2 is the only racetrack in Alberta that is not operating as a racing entertainment centre.
“The panel finds that the impacts the Track on 2 has on the horse racing industry are significant.”
Revenue from racing entertainment centres is split three ways: 15 per cent to operators, 50 per cent to Horse Racing Alberta and 35 per cent to the provincial government through its General Revenue Fund.
“The community in this region is growing quickly and the events the Track on 2 hosts creates community and will foster further growth in the area. The panel is of the opinion that some of the financial losses projected will be made up with increases to the population and subsequent positive economic impact.”
The approval is conditional on Track on 2 splitting the cost of the network connection with the AGLC.
Belich believes there is plenty of room for Track on 2 in the area gambling market without hurting the prospects of area casinos.