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Newest race track could be next door to River Cree

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By Shari Narine Sweetgrass Contributing Editor ENOCH CREE NATION







May 25, 2016.

The capital region’s next “A” class racetrack could be located on the Enoch Cree Nation.

The River Cree Racing and Entertainment Corporation is one of seven expressions of interest received by Horse Racing Alberta for an organization to own and operate a premier horse racing facility for the Edmonton market area. Northlands announced earlier this year that 2016 would mark its final year in the horse racing business.

“We’re pretty thrilled. It came up really quick and we put together a group,” said Enoch Cree Nation Chief Billy Morin.

HRA put out the call April 28 for expressions of interest, setting the deadline for May 19.

The River Cree Racing and Entertainment Corporation was formed under the Enoch Entities Group. It includes Morin, band councilor Michelle Wilson and licensed “A” track manager Levi Morin. Les Butler, former CEO with Northlands, has been hired as a consultant. With 30 years in the industry, Butler is well respected and has a “fantastic resume,” said Morin.

What is being proposed is a $75 million capital investment located directly south of the River Cree Resort and Casino. It would contain the only one mile track in western Canada, inside which would be a track to race thoroughbreds and Standardbreds. Construction would begin fall 2016 or spring 2017 and the track would be operational spring 2018.

While the HRA’s expressions of interest deals solely with a race track license, the HRA wants more. Proponents must also be intending to obtain a racing entertainment centre gaming license, which is issued by the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission.

“The goal is to do (the development) in phases when it comes to infrastructure. The track and pedway system and then maybe open up the restaurant, slot machines and everything else that comes with the license, maybe a month after,” said Morin.

For the gaming aspect, Morin says they will be calling on the expertise of the River Cree Resort and Casino board, CEO Robert Morin and secretary Roger Smith, who developed the First Nations gaming policy.

“The gaming aspect of it is very, very important. Our casino is by far the highest revenue earner in the capital region in Alberta,” said Morin.

HRA is supposed to be considering all expressions of interest over the next 30 days and then requesting successful applicants to submit proposals.

“I still believe that Enoch provides everything that HRC needs and that the AGLC needs and that everybody (needs). I can’t see anybody beating our location, both what we can offer in terms of gaming, and the speed and the resources we can raise quickly when it comes to financing this thing,” he said.

Morin says his group is eager to move forward with their proposal.

“Everybody is all hands on deck and we’re pretty excited about it. The next thing I’ll be doing will be lobbying for political will from the provincial government to move forward and get in front of them to at least hear our proposal,” he said.

Morin is unclear how revenue raised from the slot machines at the racetrack will be distributed. Presently, revenue raised at on-reserve slot machines sees First Nations benefit both through direct earnings and grant funding. With race track entertainment facility licenses, slot machine earnings are also split, with a portion going to the Alberta Racing Corporation.

“We would probably try to blend the two (formulas) … distributing (money) to First Nations … that would be something we’d like to discuss with (the provincial government),” said Morin.

Construction of the race track and facility would employ 100-200 people and operational maintenance would provide jobs for 100-150 people. Morin says he has been told that one horse employs seven people when fully operational.