2015-01-08 / News

Sports Creek Raceway crosses the finish line

BY LANIA ROCHA
810-452-2652 • lrocha@mihomepaper.com


Sports Creek Raceway is closing its doors after 29 years of harness racing in Swartz Creek. 
Photos by Lania Rocha Sports Creek Raceway is closing its doors after 29 years of harness racing in Swartz Creek. Photos by Lania Rocha SWARTZ CREEK – Sports Creek Raceway is closed, the land and buildings are for sale, its fixtures are being parted out and its food supply is being donated to a local food pantry.

“The only way there will be a race track here again is if someone comes in and buys it and runs it as a race track,” said Chris Locking, general manager. “But I don’t see that happening.”

The track’s uncertain future became public knowledge last week when the Michigan Gaming Control Board issued a cease and desist order.

The order, which halted all live racing, simulcasting and wagering effective Jan. 1, came after track owners and members of the Michigan Harness Horsemen’s Association failed to agree on a new contract.

MHHA Executive Director Phil Stommen said the hitch in contract negotiations was the supplemental compensation that the horsemen pay the track.

By law, track operators and horsemen must split the commissions earned on wagers. Venues receive 60 percent of revenues, while 40 percent goes to prize purses.

“Recently, the race track operators demanded that the horsemen pay them a portion of the revenue designated for purses,” Stommen said in an email.

“We offered Sports Creek $8,000 per day – the same deal accepted by Northville Downs in August – to help supplement their operations, but they are demanding a much bigger share of the horsemen’s purse money.”

Locking said the MHHA’s offer was “less than half” the contract the MHHA proposed in a failed attempt to resurrect the Jackson Harness Raceway.

Sports Creek proposed a 6-month extension of the previous contract, to allow the business climate time to rebound and to see if any new legislation would come along, Locking said.

“We generate about $900,000 per year for purses,” he said. “A big share of that comes in the first six months.”

Locking said that putting Sports Creek on a par with Northville “wasn’t going to solve our problems here.”

He said Sports Creek needs more help than Northville, which does more business.

Stommen agreed that Northville is more solvent.

Since Sports Creek generates fewer revenues for purses, “it doesn’t make financial sense to offer them more than $8,000 per day,” Stommen said.

“Both the race track operators and Michigan’s horsemen are struggling, but we can’t solve all of the race track’s financial problems on the backs of the horsemen,” he said.

Both men blamed changes in the gaming industry for signaling the death knell for harness racing.

“The horse racing industry in Michigan has been eroded by the unrelenting expansion of casino gaming and illegal online wagering on horse racing,” Stommen said.

“Our portion of the gaming market is shrinking,” said Locking. “We don’t see anything that would help our operation.

“We would have continued racing if we had a contract, but we’re not going to continue losing money.”

Sports Creek Raceway must arrange for bettors to redeem any unpaid winning pari-mutuel wagering tickets issued at the track by March 2.

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