WINNIPEG -- Despite losing millions in revenue from COVID-19-related closures, Assiniboia Downs ended up in the black for the 2020 horse racing season.

It was an all-time record-setting year for wagering, according to Darren Dunn, the CEO of Assiniboia Downs. He credited the switch from live in-person racing to selling the track’s live racing content to the world.

“Surprising isn’t the right word, shocking is absolutely the right word. It exceeded our expectations dramatically,” said Dunn.

When the pandemic forced the track’s doors to close, lost revenue from facility rentals, restaurants, lounges, and VLTs added up into the millions.

“Though we had a high volume in a small margin return for our international wagering it did offset those significant losses, and allowed us to have some stability, keep our heads above water, keep our doors open,” Dunn said. “And certainly show some optimism to the horsemen that we have a new path.”

By flipping their marketing strategy and focusing on customers beyond the provincial borders, Assiniboia Downs was able to successfully expand their client base. In fact, Dunn said, the majority of online bets came from viewers in places outside of Manitoba.

The feed was picked up in countries like the UK and other parts of Europe, but the focus was more on areas like Australia and South America which fit the time zone well and were looking for product.

“We’ve nurtured those relationships over this off-season, over the winter, and we think they should be fairly sticky heading in so we do have conservatively optimistic expectations for a repeat,” Dunn said.

A fan-free year is planned for 2021, using minimal staff and horsemen to pull off race day activities. However, Dunn said they are able to pivot quickly to in-person racing if conditions and public health orders allow.

Opening day races at Assiniboia Downs were postponed to May 24 because international travel restrictions and Manitoba’s quarantine requirements resulted in unexpected travel delays for horsemen coming into the province.

Currently, everyone arriving in Manitoba must self-isolate for 14 days upon arriving in the province.

Two of the lost racing days will be rescheduled to the end of the racing season.

“When fans meaningfully come back to Assiniboia Downs and those per-cap revenues return I can tell you that we are optimistic that we can take Assiniboia Downs to a whole other level,” said Dunn.

                With files from CTVs Charles Lefebvre