Horses break from the starting gate at Arizona Downs on Memorial Day, the opening day for the new track. Officials said on Friday the summer meet would be cut short due to concerns about off-track betting feeds. (Image: Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier)
Officials at the Prescott Valley track announced on Friday that this weekend would be the final days of racing in 2019. The track, where racing resumed in May after a nine-year absence, was initially scheduled to hold races through Labor Day.
The move comes despite Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signing a bill into law earlier this month guaranteeing Arizona Downs’ OTB facilities would be able to receive the same racing signals as parlors run by Turf Paradise.
Officials at the Phoenix track have threatened to sue the state, saying the new state law violates federal laws.
Presently, Monarch Content Management provides Turf Paradise OTBs access to 15 tracks, including Santa Anita, Del Mar, Gulfstream, the Meadowlands, and Laurel Park. While Monarch, owned by The Stronach Group, provides Arizona Downs a signal to those venues for its simulcasting room at the track, it does not provide that feed for its OTBs.
OTB revenue plays a key role in funding the purses for live races that attract owners, trainers, and jockeys to a track. In turn, higher purses lead to larger fields and more attractive options for bettors.
“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 Tom Auther, an Arizona Downs owner in a statement.
Pending the likely challenge, the new law will take effect on Aug. 27.
Arizona Downs, which started simulcasting and off-track betting last July, has six OTBs in the state. Turf Paradise meanwhile has 59 statewide.
Monarch President Scott Daruty told Casino.org that the concern lies with Arizona Downs parlors being within close proximity to some of Turf Paradise’s facilities.
It is our belief that we have the right to choose who we do with,” he said. “Both as a fundamental principal of American economics but also – perhaps more importantly – as a function of the Interstate Horse Racing Act, which gives the track creating the signals as well as its horsemen absolute consent rights over who does and who doesn’t bet on its product.”
In a statement, Turf Paradise called Arizona Downs suspension unfortunate but said the new law threatens to hurt its access to some of the top race tracks across the country. That would happen if Monarch decides to pull its feeds from the state because of the new law.
“This dispute began between Monarch and Arizona Downs and needs to be resolved by them,” Turf Paradise General Manager Vincent Francia said in a statement. “Arizona Downs needs to take responsibility for their own failings rather than blame Turf Paradise and for causing this unnecessary hardship for Arizona horsemen.”
Optimistic for 2020
Arizona Downs does have the support of the state’s Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, which believes the Prescott Valley track is essential to developing the state’s racing industry. With Arizona Downs’ Memorial Day-to-Labor Day schedule, it would give the state horse racing throughout the year.
Liz Meyers, marketing and sales director for Arizona Downs, told Casino.org that even after live racing stops, the track’s simulcasting room and its OTBs will remain open.
In addition, Auther said the track will pursue expanding its OTB network. He added that talks continue with potential investors about securing new funding.
“(T)he successful passage of HB 2547 puts us on sound footing for a full summer meet in 2020,” he said.
Arizona Downs had another issue to contend with on Saturday. A blackout affecting parts of Northern Arizona forced the track to cancel part of its card. As a result, the track completed just four of its eight scheduled races.
Eight races are scheduled for Sunday, with post time set for 1 pm Mountain Standard Time.