Arizona tracks battle over OTB signals

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UPDATED 5.29.2019 at 2:00p.m. PST

PRESCOTT VALLEY, Ariz. — While optimism abounds with the re-opening of Arizona Downs racetrack, there’s a battle going on with its neighbor in Phoenix.

There’s a squabble between Arizona Downs and Turf Paradise over signals from out-of-state tracks to the off-track betting facilities operated by Arizona Downs. The dispute is over Monarch Content Management’s sending its signals to Turf Paradise’s 55 OTBs in the state but opting not to send those same signals to Arizona Downs’ owned OTBs.

Arizona Downs has six OTBs in Prescott, Phoenix, Flagstaff and Lake Havasu City.

The battle has gotten political and there’s a bill in the Arizona legislature which would force Monarch and other entities to provide their racing signals to both tracks. At stake is millions in potential revenue which Arizona Downs could use to boost its purse structure for its live racing.

“It’s a shame,” said Arizona Downs co-owner Tom Auther. “We’ve had some issues with Turf Paradise that we didn’t anticipate having. We didn’t think there’d be resistance from them.”

Jerry Simms, Turf Paradise’s owner, has fought the legislation, which recently passed in both Arizona’s House and Senate and awaits Gov. Doug Ducey’s signature.

Turf Paradise is not looking for a fight. General manager Vince Francia said his track welcomes a return to racing in Prescott. He said the real dispute is between Arizona Downs and Monarch.

“Monarch is threatening to pull its signal out of Arizona if the bill becomes law,” Francia said. “For us, 42 percent of our simulcast revenue is from Monarch’s signals. If they pull out, that’s going to have a serious impact on us. It would hurt us. That’s why we are opposing the bill.”   

There’s no issue with signals at Arizona Downs’ on-track simulcast center. Monarch, which is owned by The Stronach Group, disseminates signals from the company’s tracks — Santa Anita, Golden Gate, Pimlico, Laurel and Gulfstream. Those signals were all available to bettors at Arizona Downs.

Auther said he just wants to be treated fairly and that no entity is entitled to have a monopoly.

“The whole thing is ridiculous,” he said. “Hopefully the Governor will sign the bill, we’ll get this resolved and move on.”

But while the OTB issue works itself out, another potential revenue stream is looming for the tracks and OTBs — sports wagering.

Ducey is considering signing any potential bill legalizing sports betting in Arizona. At both Arizona Downs and Turf Paradise, a sportsbook would be an attractive addition and Auther said he would love to see it happen.

“I think it would be great for us,” he said. “We would support that, absolutely.”

For sports betting in Arizona to become legal, a deal would likely have to be struck with 16 tribal operators and rework the compact between those Native American tribes in order to allow them to accept wagers. There is currently a bill in the Arizona Senate that would make sports betting legal but it has yet to come to a vote.

It is believed the earliest sports betting would happen in Arizona is in 2020.

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About the Author

Steve Carp

Steve Carp is a six-time Nevada Sportswriter of the Year. A 30-year veteran of the Las Vegas sports journalism scene, he covered the Vegas Golden Knights for the Las Vegas Review-Journal from 2015-2018.

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