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Mon, Oct. 14

Phoenix track now says it won’t challenge law, but signal provider unmoved

Co-Owner Tom Auther makes a bet as Arizona Downs opens its doors for off-track betting for horse races across the country Friday, July 13, 2018. (Les Stukenberg/Courier)

Co-Owner Tom Auther makes a bet as Arizona Downs opens its doors for off-track betting for horse races across the country Friday, July 13, 2018. (Les Stukenberg/Courier)

PHOENIX — The owners of Turf Paradise won’t challenge a new law that is designed to provide some financial help for Arizona Downs.

But it remains to be seen whether the Prescott Valley facility will get the teletrack signals it says it needs for its off-track betting operations — the very signals that the law was designed to provide.

Vince Francia, general manager of the Phoenix track, told Capitol Media Services that company officials are backing away from their threat to try to overturn a new law signed earlier this year by Gov. Doug Ducey, which says anyone who simulcasts live racing in Arizona from another state must offer that same signal — and at the same terms — to every track in the state, and all of their off-track betting sites.

Francia said his company is still concerned that Arizona Downs has set up three of its own OTB facilities near those already operated by Turf. That, he said, could mean unfair competition.

He said, however, the decision was made that going to court to block the law before it takes effect on Aug. 27 was not the right move.

“If it brings peace to the racing kingdom here in the state, then that’s an extra added benefit for everyone,’’ Francia said.

But he does not have the last word.

The signals at issue from several out-of-state tracks — the ones that Arizona Downs wants for its OTB sites — actually belong to Monarch Content Management Co. And Scott Daruty said his firm has no interest in sharing them with the Arizona Downs OTB sites.

Monarch has provided the signals to Turf for years, along with its own OTB sites. It also has made them available to Arizona Downs so people can lay down bets there on out-of-state races.

What Monarch has been unwilling to do -- and what the law is designed to force -- is for the company to make the signals available to the six OTB sites operated by Arizona Downs, including three in the Phoenix area.

Daruty pointed out the law does not technically force Monarch to sell to these OTB sites. Instead, it is crafted as an all-or-nothing: Provide for all or provide for none.

“If we are forced to provide it to every location in Arizona or to none, then, unfortunately, our choice would be to provide the signal to none,’’ he told Capitol Media Services.

But Daruty said it may not come to that: While Francia and Turf are out of the lawsuit business, Monarch is not.

“We think the law is unconstitutional as written, and we would intend to pursue the business as usual,’’ he said.

Put more succinctly, at this point Monarch plans to keep providing a signal to Turf and its OTB sites but not to those of Arizona Downs -- and wait for the state to try to enforce the law.

“If the state of Arizona tries to enforce an unconstitutional law against us, then we would see how that plays out,’’ Daruty said.

He declined to be more specific with his firm’s litigation options.

“But let’s put it this way: There’s a contract in place that requires me to sell my signal to Turf Paradise and its OTBs,’’ Daruty said. “If the state of Arizona is saying it passed a law that makes that contract unenforceable, then I’m going to wait for the state of Arizona to notify me of that fact.’’

Arizona Downs is able to offer off-track betting at its remote sites. But the signals from Monarch are of particular interest to those who wager on the ponies.

Monarch sells the signals from the tracks owned by the Sonarch Group, Monarch’s parent company. Those include California’s Santa Anita Park and Gulfstream Park in Florida.

Monarch also sells signals from tracks its parent company does not own, and it sells the signals from the more than 130 days of live racing at Turf to other tracks.

Daruty said his concern is that allowing Arizona Downs to take wagers at its remote sites, particularly in Phoenix, will “cannibalize’’ the business now going to Turf’s own OTB sites.

But Ann McGovern, general manager of Arizona Downs, said that her operations are bringing in new wagering dollars, not simply siphoning off those already out there.

There’s also the fact that Arizona Downs has three other sites besides Phoenix: Lake Havasu City, Flagstaff and Pinetop-Lakeside.

Daruty said another concern aside from the issues between Turf Paradise and Arizona Downs is that allowing this law to stand unchallenged could set a “dangerous precedent,’’ opening the door for similar “all-or-nothing’’ laws in the more than 35 other states where Monarch operates.

Francia said if Monarch pulls out entirely it would not cripple Turf’s own OTB network of 55 sites as it does get signals from other tracks. But he said it would cut sharply into revenues as people would wager less.

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