Funding Shortage Could Slam Gate Shut on Arizona Horse Racing

Racing news

Budget Cuts Could End Horse Racing at Two Arizona Racetracks

Horse racing in Arizona is in trouble. The state’s two main tracks could close next year as budget cuts have gutted the state division that overseas Thoroughbred racing.

Funding cuts by the legislature have already forced some layoffs, and the agency that regulates pari-mutuel wagering is running out of money. According to state law, the racing division employees of the Arizona Department of Gaming monitor Thoroughbreds, jockeys and wagering to ensure the sport’s integrity and safety. So if those jobs are cut and no agency remains, races would have to be cancelled.

Kristian Fasching, a spokeswoman for the gaming department, says live racing at Turf Paradise in Phoenix and Rillito Racetrack in Tucson would be forced to shut down, along with the annual county fair races.

“We were blindsided by this,” Fasching said.

The racing division is not supported by Arizona taxpayers or the state’s general fund, but gets financing from a percentage of betting proceeds, known as the regulatory wagering assessment. Half the money comes from track owners, and half from horse owners.

In fiscal 2016, the Racing Division budget totaled $2.9 million. This year, lawmakers cut the regulatory assessment percentage by about one-third. The lawmakers also decided a $250,000 Breeders Cup award must be paid from regulatory wagering assessment proceeds, rather than the General Fund.

Available funds have dropped to about $1.5 million, and the racing division is projected to be out of money by March — three months before the fiscal year ends.

“This is essentially a 50 percent reduction to the racing budget,” division Director Rudy Casillas told State Racing Commission members. “We have a structural deficit. There is no way, from my estimation, that we can get through the rest of the fiscal year.”

Casillas said he has asked lawmakers and the Governor’s Office for an emergency appropriation but nothing has come through.

Patrick Ptak, a spokesman for Gov. Doug Ducey, said in an email the cuts were made as part of an efficiency effort.

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In other related news, the Arlington Million is being run this weekend at Arlington Park in Illinois. But that beautiful track along with two others in the state could also be in trouble.

“We’re very concerned about horse racing in this state. It’s very, very fragile right now,” Arlington Park general manager Tony Petrillo told the Daily Herald in an interview. “It’s on the brink of destruction.”