Slot machines give Iowa track an edge over Canterbury Park

ST. PAUL (AP) — While the state Legislature debates how to keep the Minnesota Twins in town, a different type of athlete already is leaving the state.
Equine athletes from Canterbury Park — where the Legislature is considering putting slot machines to finance a new baseball stadium — are heading south to the track in Altoona, Iowa, where slots are alive and well.
The machines at Prairie Meadows have become such a booming success since they were installed in April 1995 that profits have retired nearly $90 million of debt on the track.
They’re also paying for purses that are paying horsemen $105,000 a day, nearly $40,000 more than Canterbury will offer when live racing resumes in Shakopee on Saturday.
The purse difference not only has convinced some horsemen to compete in Iowa instead of Shakopee this year, but it also has persuaded native Minnesotans to shift some of their breeding stock to Iowa because of the money offered to racehorses bred there.
As a result, Canterbury officials say that competition has become so intense that adding slots to the Canterbury mix probably would be only a temporary solution to the horse industry’s problems.
“It will take some pressure off short term,” said Canterbury President Randy Sampson. “But to be really successful, Canterbury and the breeding industry will need a long-term revenue source.”
The Minnesota Lottery would oversee the slots operation at Canterbury if it is approved. Lottery director George Anderson estimated that 1,500 slot machines would produce $60 million a year.
The profits would be divided several ways, including stadium funding, the state, the environmental trust fund and for lottery expenses.
Canterbury would get a cut for capital improvements, additional security and utilities.
A $50 million figure would mean an additional $2.5 million for Canterbury’s purses, a $50,000-per-day purse increase for a 50-day meet. But Sampson said it is likely the track would run a longer meet under such conditions, maybe 70 or 80 days.
At the Iowa track, the slots produced a $110 million profit last year and are averaging $4 million a day of business this year.
“It’s truly amazing what has happened there,” said John McEvoy, senior writer for the Daily Racing Form, the industry’s leading newspaper. “But I’m a little leery of what will eventually happen. How long will people want to subsidize racing this way?”