Yogi Berra Comes To Scottsdale: It’s Déjà Vu All Over Again

By Neighborhood Nelly

Arizona pioneers didn’t just set up our state for the powerful. They did so for the people too. That’s why the referenda and initiative process and rights are enshrined in our State Constitution. Referendum rights allow citizens to challenge the decisions of their elected officials. Initiatives allow the people to bypass legislatures and city councils to propose their own laws. Not liking these rights the Arizona State Legislature, primarily led by Republicans,  has successfully curtailed these and other rights, making it more difficult for the people  to take matters into their own hands. Forcing supermajority votes on zoning cases? Gone. Making it more difficult to circulate referenda and initiative petitions? Done. Protecting dark money and ending transparency of those impacting governments? Achieved.

This brings us to Scottsdale. In spite of all of these challenges, the citizens recently took matters into their own hands and passed Proposition 420 to force public votes on changes in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. 

Passed with 71% of the vote, Prop 420’s passage demonstrates that voters wanted more input. A proposed change to the way Scottsdale off track betting locations are approved or denied, suggests that some at City Hall still need to learn the lessons of Prop 420.

A little background. Off track betting or OTB locations are established all over Arizona, mostly in bars. They provide monitors and machines that allow customers to watch and wager on horseracing locally and around the world. OTB’s have been in Arizona since the 90’s. It’s a good fit for some parts of the city, not so much for others. That’s why the City of Scottsdale had previously put in some safeguards when it comes to their approval. At present the City currently has six locations. The safeguards, designed to aid neighborhoods and keep gambling from city parks, may be in jeopardy.

The proposed changes including REMOVING the requirement that any home or business within 500 feet of a proposed OTB be notified by mail. Instead the City just wants to post a notice on its website. That’s a pretty big change for the vast majority of residents who don’t have the time to be constantly monitoring the city website. In fact, it’s an unfair burden and an abdication of the city’s responsibility to keep neighbors informed when it comes to major changes.

Another proposed change removes the distance requirements from residential areas. Currently, if an OTB wants to locate near a residential neighborhood, 51% of the neighbors have to sign off on the idea.

Another requirement that would go away is a rule that prohibits OTB’s from operating within 500 feet of a public park.

The current rules have served Scottsdale well. There is no need to change them. Unfortunately, a new racetrack based in Prescott wants the rules changed to serve their own interests. Someone should remind Scottsdale City Hall that the interests of its residents should come first.

Common sense and the overwhelming support from Prop 420 demonstrate that neighborhoods want more input, not less, when it comes to what is permitted near their homes. Whether someone wants an OTB in their neighborhood or not, they deserve a say in the matter and they deserve to be informed. Indeed, current rules seem to be working as six establishments have figured them out and gained neighborhood support. This is not a matter of competition. Any business can abide by current rules to compete. Yet the out of towners want a change in Scottsdale law that would upend the entire regulatory model, not just for one location but for the entire city, potentially impacting every city resident. Out of town gambling interests or local neighborhoods?

Staff support for the OTB changes demonstrates they have not learned the lessons of Prop 420. Indeed Scottsdale city staff is betting on the wrong horse. Hopefully the City Council will have to good sense to put this bad idea out to pasture. If they don’t, rumors are circulating a referendum is in the works. Imagine how that vote will go in 2020, concurrent with council elections? It may make Proposition 420’s 71% look like a nail biter and give greater lift to the “residents first” mantra emerging for the next elections.