Dennis Mills, vice chairman of Magna Entertainment Corp., said he knows that many Dixon citizens will resist the $250-million Dixon Downs racetrack proposal no matter what his company does. For the rest of the voters in the rural town of about 17,000 preparing for a referendum on the project April 17, he’s promising some changes.
For the past two months, the 60-year-old Mills has been living in a small motel in town “speaking to the real Dixon residents who are not real happy with our project.”
Stressing that Dixon Downs must prove horse racing can be viable in a new technological age, Mills said: “This is the first racetrack that we will build in the new century. If we are going to compete in the coming years, we must have a track that does all of the state-of-the-art stuff for the new Thoroughbred racing customer. Here, we have a clean slate.”
Dixon Downs would be the first new Thoroughbred track to race in California since Golden Gate Fields in 1946.
He said “traffic and noise” from the proposed track, which would face Interstate 80 about 20 miles west of Sacramento, is the number one complaint. But he said residents are also concerned about the track interfering with operations of the nearby Campbell Soup tomato processing and canning operation, plus the detrimental effect on downtown business a retail center adjacent to the track could have. And, of course, there is worry over potential casino plans if slot machines were legalized.
Mills announced a series of “development covenants” to be added to the plans approved last year by the Dixon City Council.
“The original plan gives us the right to hold one mega-concert of up to 50,000 people and 15 concerts of up to 30,000,” Mills said. “But I look at that and ask myself, ‘What has this got to do with horse racing?’ The truth is--nothing. Concerts do nothing for racing, so get rid of it. We don’t need it, so we’re taking it off the table.”
Mills said he was aware of potential traffic conflicts with Campbell Soup on the frontage road the track and the plant would share. “But what I didn’t realize was that Campbell Soup is a seven-day-a-week, 24-hour-a-day operation during the harvest season (July through September),” he said. “So what I have said to them is this: We will stand down during your harvest period.We will not race during that time.”
For local businesses, he said MEC would give all existing companies “the right of first refusal” on space in the retail center, which is to also to house a hotel and business conference center. And as far as the track becoming a casino, Mills said even in the unlikely event tribal casinos were to lose their monopoly in the state and slots became legal for racetracks, MEC will pledge not to install them at Dixon Downs.
“That land will not have slots,” Mills said. “It will be embedded in the deed. Even if we were to sell that land to an Indian group, they would not be able to install slot machines.”
He said, however, Instant Racing machines that allow wagering on historical races in a video lottery terminal-like machine should be exempted because they are considered pari-mutuel in nature.
Gail Preston, whose group Dixon Citizens for Quality Growth gathered signatures to put the project before the voters, said he believes MEC’s guarantees are “not credible.”
“The thing I’m most concerned about is that this is going to cause confusion (among voters),” he said. “There’s plenty of that already.”
Preston said cutting concerts doesn’t address “the day-to-day” traffic problems the track would cause, and that Campbell Soup has more issues that haven’t been adequately addressed.
“We’re opposed to this project and we are going to oppose it even if wins,” Preston said. “We are determined not to have a racetrack here.”