Proposal would put flexibility in state racing laws - East Valley Tribune: Arizona

Proposal would put flexibility in state racing laws

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Posted: Friday, January 28, 2011 4:18 pm | Updated: 8:37 pm, Sat Jan 29, 2011.

The owners of Tucson Greyhound Park want some flexibility in state racing laws - flexibility that actually would allow them to end all racing on the site.

The proposal by Rep. Vic Williams, R-Tucson, would eliminate the requirement that the park have live racing at least four days a week for 50 weeks of the year in order to also take off-track betting for races elsewhere. Instead, HB 2536 would let track owners opt for a curtailed schedule.

Lobbyist Michael Racy said the cost of running all those live races is becoming less and less economically viable given the limited audience.

"The competitive environment out there is amazingly difficult for this industry and continues to get more challenging," he said. Racy said that specifically means tribal casinos which have siphoned off business.

"It simply allows the business to adjust to those economic circumstances," he said.

That adjustment, Racy acknowledged, could mean no racing at all. At that point, the site would simply become a place where patrons could place bets on races elsewhere around the country.

"Why shouldn't that be allowed?" Racy said, adding quickly, "that's certainly not our plan."

Racy said there is precedent for what the track owners are seeking: Apache Greyhound Park in Apache Junction is permitted to take wagers but no longer has live racing.

Phoenix Greyhound Park shut down entirely, with neither races nor wagering.

Williams agreed that his legislation could end live dog racing entirely in Tucson. He said, though, track representatives told him that's not the plan - at least not now.

"Currently, they're profitable doing live racing," Williams said. "And if this law passes it doesn't necessarily mean that they will eliminate it at this time.

"But if the model of having live racing becomes unprofitable, it gives them that ability to have that choice or discretion. This is a business decision being put forth by the tracks at this time to ensure their longevity in their business."

HB 2536, if successful, would complete a trend that began more than two decades ago as an effort to keep dog racing alive in Arizona.

The first step was to let the tracks televise - and take wagers on - races run elsewhere.

Then, in the 1990s, as high-stakes tribal bingo began to take off, track owners came to the Capitol seeking new help.

Officials at Tucson Greyhound Park at the time said the daily "handle" at the track had been running about $84,000. Gaming at the Tohono O'odham Reservation, they said, caused that to slip to $64,000.

Their original request was permission to operate the same kind of bingo games as the tribes as well as permission to let patrons to play card games.

Lawmakers refused, instead letting them make arrangements with bars and other locations for off-track betting.

Williams said he's not expecting any real opposition to the plan to allow the track to curtail or even eliminate actual racing. In fact, he said, it may actually pick up some support from animal rights groups who for years have complained about mistreatment of racing greyhounds, particularly those who prove too slow to earn money for their owners.

"And if the people trying to protect greyhounds find a common interest in this, that's great," he said. "That would be wonderful if those two groups could work together."

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