Cheyenne Frontier Days Neighbors Fear Live Horse Racing Will Ruin Their Summer

At a public meeting on Wednesday, people who live near the Cheyenne Frontier Days grounds told a company that wants to host live horse racing at the arena that they did not want it and it would ruin the neighborhood.

RJ
Renée Jean

November 30, 20237 min read

Mike Thiessen takes questions about Accel Entertainment's plan to run live horse racing at the Cheyenne Frontier Days facilities after the rodeo shuts down in the fall.
Mike Thiessen takes questions about Accel Entertainment's plan to run live horse racing at the Cheyenne Frontier Days facilities after the rodeo shuts down in the fall. (Matt Idler for Cowboy State Daily)

People who live around the Cheyenne Frontier Days grounds were armed with lots of questions for Accel Entertainment about the company’s plans to add live horse racing at Frontier Park once the world’s largest outdoor rodeo has concluded.

Mike Thiessen, a spokesman and consultant working with Accel Entertainment, told residents Wednesday that the horse racing will be a much smaller, much quieter event than CFD. It’s not going to be a continuation of what the residents deal with when it comes to that event.

For one, there won’t be any night races. The races will be confined to daytime hours on weekends from mid-August to early October.

“We would prep everything in the spring and it would be put to bed. Frontier Days would happen and then the track would be turned back over to us the second or third week of August,” Thiessen said. “We would run late August and possibly the first week of October, three days a week, 16 races.”

Race days would generally be Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays with few exceptions, most notably the Labor Day Weekend.

Thiessen also stressed that Accel has hired one of the world’s best track builders to ensure their track will be a safe environment for horses and jockeys. With some of the foremost animal safety experts in Cheyenne, that’s going to be one of the factors that is first and foremost for the track, Thiessen added.

“We’re gong to do a partnership with Frontier Park and it’s going to include rent, and some equipment, and some improvements here,” Thiessen said. “Tractors and stalls and some things that we will see expand, as well as things that will benefit other users, other tenants of the park as well.”

The rent payment, meanwhile, will be a source of revenue for Cheyenne Frontier Days that will help it retain its position as a world class Western rodeo.

“We think it’s a beneficial to take the asset here at Frontier Park and make it better,” he said. “This is beneficial for all of us.”

Mike Thiessen presents information about Accel Entertainment's proposal for live horse racing at Frontier Park after Cheyenne Frontier Days closes.
Mike Thiessen presents information about Accel Entertainment's proposal for live horse racing at Frontier Park after Cheyenne Frontier Days closes. (Matt Idler for Cowboy State Daily)

What About That $1.1M Fine?

Accel Entertainment’s core business involves operating video games, skill games and slot machines outside of a casino environment.

“We are in some of the biggest gaming states that exist, including Illinois, Montana and Nebraska,” Accel Entertainment’s Kevin Jaglowski told the crowd. “These are some of the strictest regulatory bodies when it comes to any type of gaming condition or environment.”

The company is also publicly traded, Jaglowski added, and as such, takes pains to try and live by its regulatory obligations.

However, one of the many questions the company fielded during Wednesday’s exchange was from Cheyenne resident Mike Daily, who had brought along newspaper articles he’d found through a Google Search about a recent $1.1 million fine the company paid to the Illinois Gaming Commission.

According to the commission’s complaint, the company had made a deal with sports betting giant DraftKings IL to pay a commission to local business owners to entice them to place Accel machines in their establishments.

“There’s allegations of so much corruption here, and breaking the rules, and it all blows my mind away,” he said.

His other objection was the company’s business model as primarily a gaming operation.

“They have nothing to do with horses,” he said. “It’s a slot machine company.”

That was the objection Carol Horam said she, too, has. She doesn’t want her city to look like another Las Vegas.

“I just don’t think it’s a quality activity to have in Cheyenne,” she said. “We don’t even have a sports center here, a rec center here. I’ve talked to Patrick Collins, Mayor Collins about it, and I just don’t think this is a quality activity.”

Horam added she’s often seen commercials on television urging those with a gambling problem to call for help.

“Are you going to have that?” she asked. “Because I know there are people in town that do have real gambling problems. And this will just enhance (that). I just don’t think it’s a quality activity for a family.”

Unconvinced

Residents by and large were unconvinced by the company’s protestations that the horse racing won’t become a continuation of the rowdy behavior and other problems they’ve seen as a result of Cheyenne Frontier Days.

“We all love and accept and endorse (Cheyenne Frontier Days),” Jen Solis told the company’s officials. “However, during those two weeks, our free-range children are no longer free-range.”

That’s because although the activities are supposed to be kept within Frontier Park, the people attending often don’t keep things there.

“We have people yelling in our streets,” she said. “And we have people driving drunk down our streets. And again, we get it, it’s Frontier Days. It’s epic, and we love it.”

But it’s also a two-week period where parents have to constantly run interference, pick up trash in the neighborhood, and, sometimes, explain away weird behavior by drunk people.

“What you’re suggesting seems to be a cultural change in our neighborhood,” Solis said. “After Frontier Days we get to relax a little bit and let our kids go enjoy their beautiful neighborhood. Now we’re going to have to reign that in again.”

Many residents were also upset about how little public notice there was about the informal question and answer session Wednesday night at Cheyenne Frontier Days’ main building.

“It’s so heartbreaking, after we have been such good partners with CFD,” Meredith Assay said. “We’ve been living here for 13 years, and this is what we get, a no-notice meeting.”

Accel Entertainment officials, meanwhile, don’t really seem to understand the impact that horse racing will have on the neighborhood, she said.

“It totally changes the way people live,” she said. “And it sounds like for three days all day we’re going to have to deal with something very similar for six weeks. So, I want you to know that this will decimate our neighborhood, and so just think about that as you move forward.”

Limited Authority

Mayor Collins, who was at the meeting and could be seen taking notes throughout, told Cowboy State Daily that the city’s role in approving the facility is very limited.

“As I understand the process, the county commissioners have to acknowledge it, and then it goes to the state, and then the state gives the license,” Collins said. “And so we’re not involved in any of the process up to that point.”

That doesn’t mean he hasn’t had conversations with Laramie County commissioners about the facility.

“I told them we’re having this meeting, and then I’m going to have lunch with them, you know, to understand things from their perspective,” Collins said. “And yeah, we’ll cooperate. I love our commissioners and we work really well together.”

Collins said he was not upset that the city doesn’t have much role in approving the facility.

“The state has decided that the county commissioners are the right governing body to look at that, and I don’t have a problem with that,” he said. “You know, they’re great people who do a good job and will make a good decision. Then our job (as the city) will be to make sure we manage it properly.”

That will include a look at traffic patterns and other issues raised by residents during the meeting, to ensure the event is managed properly, Colins said.

Kevin Jaglowski with Accel Entertainment, left, and Mike Thiessen answer questions about Accel's proposed live horse racing venture in Cheyenne.
Kevin Jaglowski with Accel Entertainment, left, and Mike Thiessen answer questions about Accel's proposed live horse racing venture in Cheyenne. (Matt Idler for Cowboy State Daily)

Renée Jean can be reached at Renee@CowboyStateDaily.com.

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RJ

Renée Jean

Business and Tourism Reporter