The owners of the reopening Arizona Downs outside Prescott and their pay-for-play, dark money backers at the “Public Integrity Alliance” are asking the Arizona Legislature to take an unprecedented leap into a private, contractual dispute. A last-minute striker to House Bill 2547 would tell private businesses who they are forced to work and transact with. Arizona Downs and its unsavory tactics are pushing this legislation because of their own failures to broker a key agreement in the horse racing world like other operators have done. Why create special laws for spurious reasons and questionable operators?
The notion of the government compelling business deals is un-American and goes against Arizona’s long-standing support for free enterprise. Their request would upend a decades-long regulatory structure over horse racing in Arizona, hurting or closing tracks in Pima County and Phoenix for the sake of an upstart in Yavapai County?
Arizona legislators and policymakers should also know more about Arizona Downs, its owners, a checkered record in the horse racing industry as well as some of the owners’ campaign donations to disgraced former Arizona lawmaker David Stringer. Here are the facts:
- Corey Johnsen, one of the co-owners and partners with Arizona Downs, has a mixed record at horse racing tracks and has faced lawsuits.
- Johnsen and one of his companies, Magellan Gaming, were the operating and management partners at the failed Saddle Brook Jockey Club in Texas. Saddle Brook opened a simulcast betting center in Amarillo, Texas in 2012 in hopes of eventually building a full-fledge horse racing track. The venture never met projected or needed revenue projects and could not convince the Texas Racing Commission to extend its license. Johnsen’s Saddle Brook Jockey Club closed in 2014.
- Johnsen was a top executive at Magna Entertainment Corp., which owned numerous, often struggling tracks across the country. He was named President of Southwest Operations for Magna in 2006, a top position in the company. Magna Entertainment filed bankruptcy in 2008 with as much as $1 billion in liabilities and as many as 25,000 creditors, according to the Associated Press. The company was at the forefront of declines in the horse racing industry. Those include the decline of Pimilico racetrack in Baltimore where the Preakness is held.
- Technology firm AmTote International sued Corey Johnsen and other executives at Kentucky Downs in 2015 contending they ‘willfully’ and ‘maliciously’ stole proprietary technology and trade secrets related to betting systems. Lawsuit claimed Johnsen and other executives gave AmTote’s technology and intellectual property to a rival company.
- Parimax Holdings filed a similar suit against Johnsen-led companies also in 2015. The cases were settled in January 2019 with the settlement details kept secret.
- Several members of J&J Equine Enterprises LLC, which owns Arizona Downs, were donating to disgraced, former Arizona legislator David Stringer in late 2018. That was after Stringer made racist statements. Stringer resigned after it was revealed he was convicted in the 1980s on child sex abuse charges in Maryland including payment for sex with two boys, one of whom was developmentally disabled.
- Arizona Downs owners Thomas Auther, Michael Auther and David Auther were donating to and financially supporting Stringer in late 2018, according to campaign finance records from the Arizona Secretary of State.