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Sun, July 21

Bill could equalize off-track betting in state, benefit Arizona Downs

People get their bets in at opening day of Arizona Downs Friday, May 24, in Prescott Valley. Now that horse racing has returned to the area, Arizona Downs, local businesses and other community members are in support of HB2547, which is legislation that would equalize OTB content for Prescott Valley’s racetrack that just opened on May 24. (Les Stukenberg/Courier, file)

People get their bets in at opening day of Arizona Downs Friday, May 24, in Prescott Valley. Now that horse racing has returned to the area, Arizona Downs, local businesses and other community members are in support of HB2547, which is legislation that would equalize OTB content for Prescott Valley’s racetrack that just opened on May 24. (Les Stukenberg/Courier, file)

The horse-racing scene in Prescott Valley has just been rekindled due to the grand opening of the rebranded and renovated Arizona Downs racetrack. But how long will it last?

Races are set to take place every weekend at the track until Labor Day in early September. However, the absence of simulcast rights for an accessible off-track betting (OTB) network has kept Arizona Downs from providing a full experience and could significantly hurt the track financially, local representatives say.

When Yavapai Downs shut down 10 years ago because of bankruptcy, the simulcast rights went to the Turf Paradise racetrack in Phoenix. Now that horse racing has returned to Prescott Valley, Arizona Downs, local businesses and other community members are in support of House Bill 2547, which would equalize OTB content for the Prescott Valley racetrack that re-opened May 24.

The final version of the bill passed the Senate on an 18-11 vote on May 15 and gained approval in the House 39-20 on May 24. The measure has been sent to Gov. Doug Ducey, who can either sign it into law or veto it. The bill would become law if Ducey decides to pocket it, which would happen on Wednesday, June 5, 10 days after the session ended.

Turf Paradise General Manger Vincent Francia said that NYRA in New York, TwinSpires in Kentucky, and Monarch in California, the companies that manage and allocate the nation’s off-track betting signals, have been selling signals to all the racetracks in Arizona. The issue now is that Monarch will not give its group of races to the Prescott Valley track’s OTB betting sites.

Arizona Downs and the Prescott Valley community feel this has created a monopoly for Turf Paradise, since the Phoenix-based track currently owns 56 OTB sites across the state, while Arizona Downs has only five. It also compromises Arizona Downs’ ability to garner the same OTB content as Turf Paradise for a fair price.

Prescott Valley Mayor Kell Palguta said in a statement that Turf Paradise fears the passing of HB2547 because the track is under the impression that the competition will effectively close it down. However, Palguta said this will not be the case since Turf Paradise does not operate at the same time of year as Arizona Downs.

“Turf Paradise is being a bully in this and they don’t want competition and only want a monopoly of the off-track betting, and it’s not right,” Palguta said.

However, Francia and the people at Turf Paradise say HB2547 is unnecessary to resolve the OTB issues and they would rather do it through traditional dialogue, discussion and negotiation.

“The reason why we oppose the bill isn’t because of Arizona Downs but because if you take Turf Paradise and Arizona Downs out of this discussion for a second and just take the bill and imagine that being applied to businesses saying they have to do business with someone or they have to sell whatever product it is that they have at the same price, really seems to be a counterintuitive approach to doing business anywhere, much less Arizona,” Francia said.

Francia added that the bill would negatively impact Turf Paradise, since it would essentially cut down its revenue by 44%, which roughly translates to a loss of $7 million. This would make it extremely difficult for Turf Paradise to maintain itself while providing horsemen with a sufficient amount of purse money, Francia said.

He also said this problem is more of a dispute between Arizona Downs and Monarch, and he hopes they can work out their differences in order to keep horse racing alive in Arizona.

“Our attitudes toward (Arizona Downs) is that we want them to succeed because it brings summer racing to Arizona. And we want this not just because we are altruistic, but because it benefits our horsemen,” Francia said. “The best possible outcome is not through legislation, but continuing to discuss so we can hear our differences and hear our challenges and try to come to an agreement.”

The state of Arizona has been the behind the idea to equalize the availability of OTB content, according to Joe Longo, director of simulcasting for the New York Racing Association and former employee of Tucson’s Rillito Park Race Track.

“Other states across the country have ensured a level playing field by requiring that all licensees have access to any and all content available. However, in Arizona, that is not the case. Content restriction hurts not only the horsemen in the state of Arizona, but also affects the horsemen in other states responsible for putting on the racing performance,” Longo said in a news release. “When their signal is withheld, they do not earn their share of purse money generated through the wagering taking place across the nation. In order for this industry to thrive, we need laws in place that create a legal framework that is appropriate and prevents monopolistic situations, like Arizona currently faces.”

Arizona Rep. Steve Pierce, R-Prescott, believes the passing of HB2547 will greatly benefit Prescott Valley and its surrounding communities because of the economic opportunities Arizona Downs generates, including new jobs for the residents. Throughout the four-day grand opening during Memorial Day weekend, more than 20,000 people were in attendance at the track and its festivities.

“The track brings in hundreds of millions of dollars to the area throughout the summer,” Pierce said. “I heard people last (Memorial Day) weekend saying that hotels were full, restaurants were full and lots who were there were racetrack people.”

Fittingly, Arizona Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (AHBPA), which represents more than 1,500 licensed horseman in Arizona, has continuously urged the Legislature to pass this bill. Two-time Triple Crown winner Bob Baffert, who began racing at Prescott Downs, said this bill is needed for the growth and flourishment of horse racing in the state.

“This legislation requires that out-of-state simulcast operators provide their signals to all Arizona racetracks. This is the backbone of creating a fair purse process that will guarantee racing will thrive in Arizona, without harming any of the current racetracks,” Baffert said in a news release.

MAKE YOUR VOICE HEARD

Community members of the Prescott area can express their stance on HB2547 by contacting Ducey at azgoverner.gov, Chief of Staff Daniel Scarpinato at dscarpinato@az.gov, Deputy Chief of Staff Gretchen Conger at gconger@az.gov or Legislative Affairs’ Katie Fischer at kfischer@az.gov.

Aaron Valdez is a sports reporter for The Daily Courier and Prescott News Network. Follow him on Twitter @Valaaron_94. Email avaldez@prescottaz.com or call 928-445-3333, ext. 2031.

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