Dollars led to Arizona Downs’ demise

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Well, that was quick!

A few weeks ago in this space, I was singing the praises of Arizona Downs and the return of year-round horse racing in the state.

But after running just 12 days of what was supposed to be a 35-day inaugural meet, the Prescott Valley track is shutting down.

As was the case before at the old Yavapai Downs, money is the issue. Apparently, one of the track’s financial backers decided to pull out of the venture, leaving the owners strapped for cash in order to make expenses, meet payroll, cover the purses and ensure the safety of the horses and jockeys, both in the mornings and the afternoons.

This coming after a recent win for the track when Governor Doug Ducey signed into law a bill that protected the track’s off-track betting ventures as it pertained to Monarch Content Management. Monarch did not want to do business with Arizona Downs, preferring its arrangement with Turf Paradise in Phoenix.

Monarch supplies the signal from five Stronach Group tracks — Santa Anita, Gulfstream, Laurel, Pimlico and Golden Gate. Without that signal, Arizona Downs would lose considerable revenue at its six OTBs.

Combine that with the loss of a major investor and suddenly, the track is hurting for operating revenue. The track was never able to get its signal into Las Vegas’ race books and that was money never realized.

A week ago, a horse had to be put down after failing to finish a race. We all know the Santa Anita issues and it has been a lightning rod for animal rights activists everywhere. So that negative publicity on social media didn’t help Arizona Downs’ cause.

Put it all together and you have a Pick 4 for disaster.

You can make it a Pick 5 if you’d like when you factor in Arizona Downs’ takeout on wagers was higher than most tracks. Its 19.75 percent takeout on win, place and show bets was higher than New York (16 percent), Del Mar (15.4 percent) and even Laurel, one of the Stronach tracks (18 percent). Its other wagers had higher takeouts than NYRA, Del Mar and Stronach tracks.

A power outage in the area Saturday forced the cancellation of the remainder of the card after four races had been run. I guess when it rains, it pours.

Arizona Downs claims it will bounce back come 2020. I’m not so sure. It spent a lot of time and money to regain the public’s trust and a lot can happen between now and next May when racing will purportedly resume.

Maybe new investors can be found. Maybe the new OTB law will lead to alternative signals. Perhaps Arizona Downs will lower its takeout on wagers. Maybe they cut a deal with the Nevada Pari-Mutuel Assiociation and get their signal into Las Vegas and Reno.

But if I’m a horse owner or trainer, how can I know with any certainty Arizona Downs will re-open? How do I make plans? And if it does re-open, what guarantee do I have as a trainer that it will remain open?

The track plans to remain open for horsemen to stable and train. But with no racing, it still means shipping out of state to other places to race. And that’s not cheap to do.

How about the hundreds of people the track employed? The bartenders? The concession workers? The tellers? The restaurant employees? What about their future? Granted, those jobs were seasonal. But it means those who are out are now scrambling to find work for the next couple of months to compensate for the wages they lost when the track closed.

The fans will find other things to do with their money. Maybe they’ll make a trip to Del Mar for live racing. Maybe some will drive to Las Vegas and enjoy a weekend. Maybe instead of going to the track, they’ll tend to projects around their homes they’ve been putting off. Or they’ll get 18 holes of golf in. Or they’ll go fishing.

What’s sad is that those who were investing in this venture should have known going in what the deal was. They knew there was a battle with Monarch. They knew that re-starting racing was going to require deep pockets and patience.

The folks at Colonial Downs should be taking note of what happened. The Virginia track is scheduled to re-open in early August after years of financial squabbling that kept the track dormant. Let’s hope it has better luck than Arizona Downs did.

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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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