Arizona Downs has informed employees and horsemen that the racetrack's summer season is being suspended due to ongoing issues in the battle for fair and equal access to out-of-state racing signals for its Off Track Betting system.
Pending additional financing, the final live race days for the 2019 summer meet are Saturday and Sunday.
“OTBs are the lifeblood of horse racing in our state because they fund the purse distribution to the horse owners, trainers, grooms and jockeys that compete at Arizona racetracks,” said Arizona Downs Owner and Partner Tom Auther. “Our OTBs need access to the same robust network of signals that Turf Paradise offers at its OTBs through Monarch Content Management. That's why we pushed for legislation that would give us fair and equal access.
“Arizona Downs' OTBs are still open for business, and we are planning to aggressively expand their number.”
HB 2547 is a new law that mandates that any simulcast signal of live racing brought into Arizona from another state “must be offered to each commercial live-racing permittee in this state.” According to the Turf Paradise website, Turf Paradise and Monarch are intending to sue the State of Arizona in federal court to stop the new law.
The law will be enforced on August 27, 2019. At that time, Monarch will make a decision to either pull its signal from Arizona altogether, or do as the law mandates and sell the signal to all state permitted racetracks and OTBs. Either way, HB 2547 guarantees that all permitted racetracks and OTBs will have equal access to all out-of-state racing signals.
“Realizing the uncertainty surrounding Monarch's out-of-state signals, and Turf Paradise's threatened assault on the new law even after its passage, our lender is unwilling to move forward,” said Auther. “However, we remain confident about the potential of year-round horse racing because this new law has passed. We already have several ongoing conversations with potential investors, and OTB partners.”
Since its Memorial Day Weekend grand opening in Prescott Valley, Arizona Downs has attracted more than 10,000 fans to its weekend live racing events, including thousands of individuals that have never experienced horse racing before.
“Arizona Downs is essential for the success of horse racing in Arizona,” said Leroy Gessmann of the Arizona Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association (HBPA), and national president of HBPA. “Because of their efforts, legislation is in place that will strengthen the industry and pave the way for a strong year-round racing circuit.”
The horsemen and local community have been incredibly supportive of Arizona Downs, and its efforts strengthen Arizona's horse racing industry. Hundreds of supporters contacted Governor (Doug) Ducey to encourage passage of the new law.
“Although it's disappointing that the summer live racing season has been cut short, the Town of Prescott Valley is optimistic and excited for summer racing to continue due to the huge benefit to the community and our citizens,” said Town of Prescott Valley Mayor Kell Palguta. “Much like life, plans don't always work exactly as expected, but there has been incredible progress with the new legislation, and we are glad that Arizona Downs is moving forward and finding new investors. I hope a huge crowd shows up this weekend to show their continuing support.”
Arizona has incrementally grown the wagering handle in every market it has entered, and Turf Paradise continues to add to their OTB network.
“Clearly there is room for growth in the industry, but the relationship between Monarch and Turf Paradise is stunting any opportunities for other racetracks to succeed,” said Arizona Downs General Manager Ann McGovern.
“It's hard to imagine that Monarch would walk away from a state that is so profitable, especially given the growth potential with the addition of summer racing,” said Auther. “We are heart broken at the prospect of suspending our 2019 summer racing, and for our employees, and all the horsemen, trainers, jockeys and their families who stayed in Arizona to compete in our meet. However the successful passage of HB 2547 puts us on sound footing for a full summer meet in 2020.”
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