Pinnacle Race Course officials shut down the Detroit, Mich.-area track following the end of its live meet Oct. 31 and announced that simulcast operations would be suspended until at least the spring 2011.
The 2010 live racing season was a success for Thoroughbred racing in Michigan despite the state’s economic challenges, officials said. Pinnacle, like many other Michigan businesses, has suffered the financial stresses of difficult economic conditions, which led to less attendance and wagering than projected, they said.
Also, the Michigan Gaming Control Board's decision to reduce the number of approved days at Pinnacle from 84 to only three had negative impact. Pinnacle regained 41 racing days from the state because horsemen contributed $277,000 – a cost originally to be funded by the state’s simulcast tax until the gaming control board rescinded that budget item.
Pinnacle was awarded 84 live racing days for 2011.
“We will do whatever it takes to assist our employees during this difficult time and hope that many of them return in 2011,” Pinnacle said in a statement. “Track officials will meet with employees to discuss 'transition issues’ and potential seasonal employment in 2011. With our tremendous capital investment and the state’s anticipated willingness to permit Thoroughbred racing in Michigan, we feel very positive about Pinnacle’s future as a premier entertainment venue, an important employer, a significant tax-revenue generator, and a chief building block for western Wayne County’s economic development.
"We feel very good about Pinnacle’s future and preserving Thoroughbred racing in Michigan, which is very important to Michigan’s agricultural economy. One thing we know about Michigan is we have great sporting fans here, and the horsemen and breeders are thrilled to have a great track to race at in our state.”
Gary Tinkle, executive director of the Michigan Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, said the closure of Pinnacle’s simulcast operations would obviously impact the state’s common purse pool from which each of its five tracks receive a portion of revenue.
“We knew Pinnacle was facing some financial challenges, but we didn’t know exactly what would happen,” Tinkle said. “(Pinnacle’s simulcast shutdown) was kind of a surprise, especially the day after the gaming control board issued their 2011 dates.”
Tinkle said one of the biggest challenges Michigan’s racing industry continues to face is helping legislators realize how important the business is to the state’s agricultural industry.
“In order for this industry to survive statewide, our legislators are going to have to stop the systematic dismantling of our industry and start approving legislation that would allow these tracks to compete fairly for the gaming dollar,” Tinkle said.
Michigan has more than two dozen casinos, but none are located at or benefit the state’s racetracks. Earlier this year, racing officials drafted a casino proposal that would allow for eight new casinos in the state, five of which would be located at racetracks.
An agreement could not reached on the way the bill was worded, however, because the Michigan HBPA said the language failed to provide protection for live racing, simulcasts, and purse structure.
“We have a new governor, and the legislature has changed considerably with the recent election in November,” Tinkle said in reference to Republican businessman Rick Snyder, who succeeded two-term Gov. Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat. “Hopefully he’ll understand our position and will be willing to work with us.
“We haven’t had a direct contact with (Snyder) to determine what his position is (on the racing industry), except he did mention on numerous occasions that jobs are important. He also said the state should not be responsible for picking winners and losers. So hopefully those two comments offer a little hope that he understands the struggles our industry is facing.
“We don’t want any incentives or tax breaks; we’re not looking for (the government) to buy our business. We’re interested in letting these tracks compete fairly in an industry that they’re a part of, and that’s gaming.”