Northville Downs to Cease Operations in February Despite Potential Legal Crisis

Jessica Aletor
By:
Jessica Aletor
22/01/2024/
Industry
Horce Racing Michigan

Highlights

  • The Michigan Gaming Control Board has announced that Northville Downs, the state’s last racetrack, will cease operations at its current facility.
  • According to the MGCB, the racetrack will host its final day of racing in February while plans for a relocation to Plymouth Township remain underway.
  • This news comes days after Northville Downs canceled racing dates due to harsh weather conditions alongside allegations of illegal payments.

After much anticipation, the Michigan Gaming Control Board has finally announced that Northville Downs will be shutting down operations at its current location. Since 1944, the facility at 301 S. Center St. in Northville has played host to dozens of horse racing events and, until this announcement, was the state’s only remaining racetrack.

In 2018, Northville Downs was a party to a $250 million redevelopment project which planned to convert the current racetrack facility to a mixed-use residential and commercial space. Concurrently, there have also been plans to relocate the racetrack to Plymouth Township, pending approval of the township board.

MGCB Reveals Last Race Date and Last Day to Cash in Winning Wagers 

The final race at Northville Downs is scheduled for Saturday, February 3, 2024. Notwithstanding the imminent closure of the racetrack, the Michigan sportsbooks at the location will continue to facilitate uninterrupted wagering. Patrons can expect to place mobile bets through advance deposit wagering (ADW) platforms.

More specifically, authorized providers like Churchill Downs/Twinspires, NYRA Bets, FanDuel Racing (TVG), and Xpressbet, will accept bets, even on horse races, including the Kentucky Derby scheduled for May 2024. However, patrons will be unable to place simulcast bets in person at the racetrack starting from Feb. 5. This closure will continue till Northville Downs reopens at its new location.

Executives of Northville Downs and the Michigan Gaming Control Board have expressed gratitude to patrons that have supported the work at the racetrack.

“The Michigan Gaming Control Board expresses our deepest gratitude to all of the Northville Downs patrons who have made each race day memorable and thrilling,” MGCB Executive Director Henry Williams said. “We appreciate the support of those who have kept Northville Downs going for 80 years and look forward to the next chapter of horse racing in Michigan at a new location.”

In addition to the closures, the MGCB has slated Saturday, Feb. 10, as the last day for patrons to cash in on any winning wagers at the Northville Downs racetrack. Albeit if a patron is unable to meet this deadline, they can mail their winning tickets to the proposed new location: Northville Downs, 47526 Clipper St., PO Box 701220, Plymouth, MI 48170.

Multiple Live Horse Races Canceled at Northville Downs Due to Harsh Weather 

Several days before the MGCB announced the closure of the racetrack, Northville Downs had had two live races canceled due to a snowstorm. The races canceled were initially scheduled for Jan. 12 and Jan. 13 as parts of precaution for horses and their racers.

“The safety and well-being of the horses, jockeys, staff, and patrons are of utmost priority,” MGCB Executive Director Henry Williams said. “The forecasted snowstorm and its unpredictable nature can generate numerous challenges that could compromise the integrity of the races and the safety of our participants, so I have issued an order that today’s races be canceled due to the weather.”

Michigan law permits this action. According to Section 12(4) of the Horse Racing Law of 1995 (HRL), live racing days can be canceled because of adverse weather conditions. As of now, there is yet no decision about whether the canceled races will be rescheduled for a later date.

Racetrack Owners Accuses Plymouth Township of Demanding Illegal Payments   

Away from Northville Downs’ current location and moving on to Plymouth Township, there has been a brewing scandal over the payments. Before now, Kurt Heise, the supervisor of Plymouth Township, has faced criticisms from residents of the location.  

However, this is set to become even more complicated after Mike Cox, attorney representing the Northville Downs racetrack, has accused the township of demanding $5 million in illegal cash payments to expedite the approval process.  

Cox, in a letter released to reporters, claimed that the request “violates not only the Michigan Zoning Enabling Act, but also the Michigan Constitution and the United States Constitution.”  

“The Township simply cannot willy-nilly charge Northville Downs hundreds of thousands of dollars annually in cash payments in so-called ‘community benefits’ to obtain a PUD or to properly use its property, especially where it does not demand the same of other township property owners such as Saint John’s Inn or Kroger or the Grand Traverse Pie Company,” Cox wrote in a letter. “More bluntly: The Township cannot sell land-use approval decisions.” 

Heise has since come forward to deny the claims, stating that Cox’s letter contains “numerous factual and legal errors.” 

Currently, negotiations between Northville Downs and Plymouth Township are at an impasse. Plymouth’s planning commission had previously approved the planned unit development agreement for the proposed property. However, a community benefits agreement is needed before a final approval. There is a Board of Trustees meeting scheduled for Jan. 23, where it is hoped that discussions can move forward.

Jessica is a news contributor to Gamble Online Michigan. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Economics but has over three years of experience working in the hospitality and gambling industry. Despite her core finance and investment banking background, she has been a casino feature writer for N1 Interactive Limited and multiple gambling affiliate sites. Her work has been featured on the bet365 blog, casino.zone and Max Force Racing. She spends her time between Michigan and California, staying up-to-date on the latest industry developments