Running Aces audit continues to show issues

12:28 AM 31 Jul 2014 NZST
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Harness Racing
Live harness racing action at Running Aces
Photo by Ari Babock for the Forest Lake Times

 It was a mixed bag of news from Running Aces Harness Park in Columbus this week as the track continued to deal with a negative finding this month by the Office of the Legislative Auditor.

Auditor James Nobles on July 14 released a report indicating in part that purse contributions made by Running Aces from 2008 through 2012 were deficient by $436,000. The auditor also found that purse contributions from betting on live races at Running Aces and from betting on simulcast races through the same time period were not in compliance with state law.

In addition, the legislative auditor report said the Minnesota Racing Commission failed to adequately oversee purse contributions at the track.

The issues may soon be resolved. A deal is now in the hopper to resolve the purse shortages, said John Derus, a board member of Running Aces.

“We are very close to a document on that,” Derus said of the settlement involving purse contributions. Derus indicated that the framework of the settlement has been reached with the Minnesota Racing Commission.

“We are doing what the racing commission asks,” Derus said. He predicted the contract would be ready to sign shortly.

The tentative agreement was reached following a legislative hearing at the State Capitol on July 22. Under the guidelines of the agreement, Derus said Running Aces was prepared to pay back the full amount that horse owners were shorted during the 2008-2012 time period.

Track officials are on record indicating the purse shortages were a result of a misunderstanding of state law. Running Aces had been calculating purse payouts from the take on individual races. The legislative auditor found that purse contributions, under state law, must be computed on the total amount collected from bets. The latter is called the handle.

The tentative agreement calling for Running Aces to pay back the entire sub shorted horse owners goes beyond what the auditor recommended. In the report, Nobles stopped short of recommending the full amount be repaid because of the role played by the racing commission.

Nobles also pointed out that the organization representing horse owners, Minnesota Harness Racing Inc., had also signed off on the purse arrangement with Running Aces.

The preliminary agreement will likely call for Running Aces to pay back the money over a three-year period. The agreement is subject to final approval by the Minnesota Racing Commission.

Running Aces took steps in the spring of 2013 to change its purse payout policy when it learned from the racing commission that an incorrect formula was being used.

Live simulcast issues could be resolved

A second issue that has dogged Running Aces may also be close to being resolved.

Derus said the finishing touches are being made to an agreement with Canterbury Park in Shakopee that will return live simulcast betting on thoroughbred races to Running Aces.

The agreement, Derus said, would reopen live simulcast betting on horse races from Canterbury Park and other tracks from around the country. Derus said he expected the contract to be signed in the very near future. Presently, the track is allowed to simulcast only harness races from tracks throughout the country.

The ability of Running Aces to carry televised thoroughbred horse races at its track was lost in February 2013. Running Aces lost its contract to televise thoroughbred races after negotiations for a new simulcast agreement between Canterbury Park and Running Aces failed.

Running Aces officials sought the new contract after the Canterbury ownership signed a long-term marketing agreement with the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community. The 10-year contract calls for total payments of $83 million to the Shakopee racetrack.

by Cliff Buchan for the Forest Lake Times (repritned with permission)

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