By Daniel Ross
In a special meeting Friday, the Arizona Racing Commission upheld its earlier decision to enforce a state law passed last year requiring all simulcast providers that send their races into Arizona to offer the products uniformly among all tracks and all their Off-Track Betting parlors (OTB).
“I didn't expect anything different,” said Bob Hutton, president of the Arizona Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association (HBPA), about the decision. The meeting, which went on for two-and-a-half hours, was well attended by individuals on both sides of the stand-off, said Hutton. “It was standing room only.”
The crux of the issue surrounds Arizona Downs, one of three tracks in the state alongside Turf Paradise and Rillito Park. When Arizona Downs reopened for live racing in 2019, Monarch, an arm of The Stronach Group (TSG) tasked with distributing the company's signal, had sent its signal to the track itself but not to the track's network of OTB's. In contrast, Monarch distributed its signal to Turf Paradise and its network of some 60 OTB's.
Last year, a federal judge ruled that any signal beamed into Arizona must be shared uniformly. In January of this year, the Arizona Racing Commission passed a motion requiring all state tracks to comply with that law.
TSG's Monarch argues that the law is unconstitutional, that it is preempted by the federal Interstate Horseracing Act, and has filed an appeal of the ruling with the ninth circuit. Monarch hasn't beamed its signal into Arizona since Jan. 24–the day the commission sent a letter to Monarch to “stop sending any simulcast signals to Arizona permittees racetracks and/or their additional wagering facilities.”
Representatives from Turf Paradise argue that the loss of Monarch's signal has had a profound impact on its business. Eleven days of the dispute resulted in a $948,512 decline in on-track, in-state and OTB live and simulcast handles–a loss of $77,726 in purses–Vince Franzia, Turf Paradise general manager, had previously told the TDN.
Indeed, in an earlier email blast to its OTB partners, Turf Paradise urged them to email and write the Arizona Racing Commission before this Friday's meeting to explain how “economically damaging” the January decision has been.
In contrast, HBPA representatives argue that the impacts aren't nearly as clear-cut. “When you look at the last week, we have more money going into the purse account than a year ago,” Leroy Gessmann, the HBPA president, had explained earlier this week. According to Hutton, about 95 percent of the horsemen are behind the commission's decision to uphold state law.
Franzia has warned that, should the stand-off continue, Turf Paradise would need to cut a day of racing per week. That possibility will be presented to the commission at the next scheduled commission meeting next week, said Hutton.
“Most probably, to be safe, it will have to be done,” he said, before turning his thoughts towards the broader stand-off: “I just think the only one who can resolve this is Monarch and Scott Daruty [Monarch's president].”