A proposal to add live horse racing to Cheyenne Frontier Days has been tabled by Laramie County Commissioners, while a second proposal for horse racing northeast of Cheyenne that would bring the state’s first full-size track if realized was given the go-ahead, with a few conditions.
Laramie County Commissioners met in regular session Tuesday to consider the proposals, along with a variety of other unrelated measures.
Jim Pellum, representing Accel Entertainment, brought the proposal for live horse racing to become part of Cheyenne Frontier Days.
Accel has a national footprint, Pellum said, with operations in 10 states already, including Montana to the north of Wyoming and South Dakota and Nebraska to its east.
“We’ve gone through some options, seeing if it was feasible to do live horse racing” in conjunction with Cheyenne Frontier Days, Pellum told commissioners. “The key here is that any racing that we would do is after the festival would be completed and would be limited in a very finite time and scope.”
That look has included consideration of upgrades that would be needed to have an appropriate race track.
According to the slide deck Pellum shared, the investment would focus on safety for horses and the jockey community and would include installation of a new customized race surface and corresponding safety rail.
Other work has included sampling the soil and hiring experts to determine what steps would be needed, Pellum said.
Pellum said Accel has already met with Gov. Mark Gordon’s staff as well as Wyoming Gaming Commission Executive Director Charles Moore, and they are under contract with world-renowned track builder Steve Wood to ensure a safe and premier track surface.
Dirt samples have been taken and sent for analysis and track surveys have been completed. Resurfacing was scheduled to begin mid-November, according to the slide deck.
“The idea here is to try to offer another avenue for live racing and create additional jobs,” Pellum said.
Not In My Backyard, Please
Several residents spoke against the proposal during the public comments portion of the hearing.
Larry Wolfe, for example, told commissioners he and others living in the neighborhood already “endure” Cheyenne Frontier Days.
“Now you’re talking about having eight weeks of horse racing in the neighborhood,” he said. “And you’re not being presented with any facts about what this will entail. How many people attend these events? How many horses are involved?”
Wolfe said he’d been told it could be 400 to 500 horses by Wyoming Gaming Commission personnel.
“The events will be all August and all September, according to the testimony we just heard,” he said. “So not only do we have all of July, we’ll have most of August and September that are going to be impacted by major events.”
Evanston, meanwhile, attracts thousands of people every week, Wolfe said. He suggested it’s inappropriate to have something like that in the middle of town.
Wolfe urged the commission to table the proposal so that more information could be obtained and more public discussion could be organized around the pros and cons of the proposal.
“This really ought to be outside of town someplace,” he said. “I don’t object to horse racing in itself, but that large community out there is probably not the appropriate place for all these events to occur.”
No Location, No Dice
Laramie County commissioners, meanwhile, felt that they did not have enough information at this stage of things to approve the proposed resolution that Pellum brought for live horse racing for Cheyenne Frontier Days.
Among the outstanding items is a lease spelling out the location of the races.
Commissioners will get “one bite at this apple,” Commissioner Gunnar Malm said, and said he couldn’t feel comfortable voting for something where there’s no lease spelling out a specific location yet, and there hasn’t been a public process to gather community input on the impact the specific location might have on surrounding residents.
“Because of how the gaming commission rules are set up, we don’t get to see this again,” Malm said, and a recent court case in Campbell County suggests county commissioners might have very limited options to address future problems once they’ve given that initial thumbs up.
There were also questions as the meeting progressed about whether approving the Thunder Plains proposal would block the Cheyenne Frontier Days proposal.
Generally, such conflicts are handled through a memorandum of understanding, an industry expert told Cowboy State Daily, so approval of the Thunder Plains project won’t necessarily block horse racing at CFD.
Not Picking Winners And Losers
Commissioner Buck Holmes wondered whether approving the Thunder Plains proposal would be tantamount to blocking the Cheyenne Frontier Days proposal, and said he didn’t feel comfortable choosing winners and losers.
That wasn’t a question that county attorney Mark Voss said he could answer on the spot.
Commissioner Malm, meanwhile, said there’s a key difference between the two proposals.
“We’ve already approved these folks (Thunder Plains) as an operator,” Malm said. “The other folks we haven’t approved as an operator. (Thunder Plains) is here for the next step, which we would never get with the first operator because it’s in the city of Cheyenne. So, they’re to the next phase. They’re saying we’re ready go to go. They’re presenting us with a site plan.”
That means it’s not commissioners picking winners or losers.
“That’s why I feel comfortable moving forward,” he said. “It’s not an either or, it’s two different periods of time in the process.”
Commissioners ultimately approved the project unanimously, with a few additional conditions. Parking areas for the horse trailers are to be graveled, and Road 140 to the park entrance is to be paved within a year of the track’s completion. Applicant is also to screen the border of the property, to protect the view shed of neighbors to the south.
Staff conditions, meanwhile, included a traffic study/drainage memo and any improvements deemed necessary as a result prior to issuing a certificate of completion.
More About Thunder Plains
The proposed track would be on a 312-acre complex just north of the Hillsdale exit, 10 miles east of Cheyenne. The proposed development would include not just an equestrian events center, but also entertainment and a sports park.
Their proposal is for a 1.5 mile-long track which, if realized, would be the first full-size racetrack in Wyoming. It will be designed and engineered with the most up-to-date nationally accepted racetrack specifications, according to the proposal presented to Laramie County Commissioners.
The idea is to create an attraction that’s a destination in and of itself.
Jeremy Manley, with Wyoming State Engineers Office, told commissioners the area proposed for the equestrian and sports park is in a groundwater control area of Laramie County. He urged the applicants and commissioners to talk with his office about what can and cannot be allowed on the property before moving forward with any actual work.
“We don’t have a full understanding of what the proposed water use will be,” he said. “I encourage the proponents and I encourage the commissioner to discuss with our office what the plans are. I can assure you the water for a waterpark, probably not going to happen.”
Renée Jean can be reached at Renee@CowboyStateDaily.com.