Century Mile, a new racetrack and entertainment facility will open sometime next fall between the Edmonton International Airport, RedTail Landing golf course and the new Premier Collection Outlet Mall which will also open sometime next year.

“I think first and foremost the track and entertainment destination will be an injection of excitement into horse racing,” said Geoff Smith, managing director for Century Casino’s Alberta Operations. “It will turn racing in Western Canada around. It brings with it a new long-term goal of sustainability for the industry. That’s what we’re really excited about.”

In other words, Century Mile is not going to be a slot-parlour casino with a racetrack limping along beside it. It is going to be a racetrack first. That’s a very important distinction. Of course, in today’s world, racing needs the slots at the tracks to survive. But horse racing also needs a partner that is committed to not just horse racing’s future, but a return to growth of an industry that once used to boast the highest per-capita betting track in North America.

“We’re going to push the gaming, but we are really going to push the racing product,” said Paul Ryneveld, general manager of Balzac’s Century Downs. “We’re a racetrack with a casino. Not the other way around. It’s a competitive advantage to have the horse racing as well as the entertainment facility. The total square footage of Century Mile is 88,000 square feet. Of that, the gaming floor is 25,000 square feet; so about two-thirds of the facility is dedicated to horse racing.”

“Horse racing is a sport, but it also is an entertainment amenity for the general public as well. It needs that combination. But the heartbeat of the land is the one-mile track and the excitement that it is going to bring and build upon for years to come,” said Smith. “It provides a new location and a new facility. The brick and mortar will all be new and fresh. It will be vibrant. We believe we’re developing a new location with a modernized facility that is going to provide that new beginning of excitement and exposure for horse racing. It will provide for the serious industry person and the serious handicapper. But it will also be a destination for those who are experiencing it for the first time as a way to spend an enjoyable day at the races with their families or for those who used to come more often than they do now.”

When Northlands announced early last year that they were getting out of the horse racing business, the racing industry was held in limbo. They didn’t know if they should be moving on to other tracks or whether they should continue investing in horses. They didn’t know whether there was even going to be any horse racing at all.

“There was a big question mark out there when it was announced Northlands was getting out of the horse racing business,” said Smith. “That led to a request for proposal through Horse Racing Alberta to determine who can carry on with the industry in Edmonton with an A track.” Ultimately that led to Century Casino getting the license.

“Providing a new long-term goal of sustainability is what we’re excited about,” said Smith. “It’s the first of many things. We believe the new track will provide an adrenalin shot for horse racing and for the purses. Unlike Northlands, which has several close competitors in relatively close proximity for their slot machine play, there is relatively no casinos close to Century Mile and will service an untapped market.”

“We’re going into a relatively under serviced gaming market area,” said Smith. “It’s about 30 kilometers to the nearest River Cree and Argyll Road casinos. South is also where Edmonton is growing. We’re estimating that the cash-played, slot volume at Century Mile will be nearing twice as much as Northlands experiences right now. As the slot revenues go up so will the purses. In many ways it is a new beginning.”

Smith said there are plenty of ‘Wow’ factors with the new track. “First there is the mile factor,” Smith said of Century Mile being the only one-mile circumference west of Toronto. “People are going to say ‘Boy this track is big.’ The track itself will be 80 feet wide compared to 65 feet at Northlands.”

But that’s just for starters.

The main level is where there will be a minimum of 550 slot machines when the track opens. But that level will also have full-size restaurants and bars and a sports-viewing lounge as well as an off-track betting parlour for wagering on simulcast racing. “These will all be synergies of excitement,” said Smith.

“One of the aspects of the building which I’m particularly excited about is that when you come up from the apron to the second floor there is a lot of glass-viewing areas where there will be a fabulous view of the turn and the stretch.”

The tarmac apron will be 80-100 feet wide — much, much bigger than Century Downs. As at Northlands, there will also be tables and chairs. The infield will have two deep ponds with fountains. There will be paved parking for 1,000 vehicles with auxiliary parking for another 2,200 vehicles. And, of course, there will be a paddock and the barn area with stabling for about 750-800 horses.

The second floor is where you want to be if you are going for the races. There will be a glass-fronted dining facility that will seat about 400. Then there is the bleacher/grandstand which will seat another 350 people and a second off-track betting area which will seat another 400. The second floor will also have a multi-purpose room, a private function area and three suites which can independently seat 80 people each or be combined into one larger facility.

The suites will have their own balconies. On top of the second floor Century Mile has put an outdoor, rooftop patio into their latest renderings. “I think that will be another ‘Wow’ factor,” said Smith. “You’ll be able to see downtown Edmonton from there.”

If there is a concern it’s that Century Mile still isn’t going to be big enough and have sufficient seating for big days like Derby Day or if it revitalizes racing the way management hopes.

“While that would be a nice problem to have we have the flexibility to grow with the business, we can always add bleachers,” Smith said. “We can also open up the infield the way Northlands does for the Derby.

“Century Mile is built to readily expand within its four walls.”

For far too long horse racing has ceased to be a high-profile sport in Edmonton. For that matter, too many people don’t even know that horse racing is even still taking place in Edmonton.

Century Mile’s plan is to bring back the past while at the same time heading into the future.

“People who have given up on the local product will shift back to what will be a new local product,” said Ryneveld.

“We will market and promote horse racing,” said Smith.

With a Costco and a hotel possibly also in the plans as part of the Edmonton International Airport revitalization plan, RedTail Landing golf course and now a new racetrack and entertainment centre, Century Casinos, which already has construction equipment grading the track, digging the ponds and moving dirt, is naturally bullish.

“You’ll see a modern new building to facilitate the horse racing and entertainment experience we want to establish,” said Smith. “It’s a new beginning.”

“We’re going to push the gaming, but we are really going to push the racing product.”