Tucson-Area Bettors Can Play Horses--for Now

Simulcasting on Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse races temporarily returned to Pima County, Ariz., with the start of the 2007 Yavapai Downs meet in late May. 

Horseplayers in the county, which includes Tucson, had been unable to wager on simulcast horse races since the conclusion of the Yavapai meet in September 2006 because of a dispute between two other racetracks in the state.

Turf Paradise, a Thoroughbred race track in Phoenix, and Tucson Greyhound Park have been unable to strike a deal on the simulcasts. If Turf Paradise and Tucson Greyhound can’t reach an agreement on a new simulcast contract, the blackout will return to the county Sept. 5 the day after the conclusion of the Yavapai meet.

The dispute has been costly to horseman at Turf Paradise. According to the Arizona Horseman’s Benevolent and Protective Association, the lack of simulcasting in Pima County, which has an estimated population of 946,000, cost the horsemen approximately $600,000 in purse money during the 2006-07 Turf Paradise meet, which ran from Oct. 6-May 6.

Yavapai, located north of Phoenix near the old Prescott Downs, executed a contract with the Greyhound track and the Pima County Horsemen’s Association, allowing Tucson Greyhound to offer simulcast wagering at its facility and its 10 off-track betting sites.

“It serves everybody to have (off-track betting on horses) in Pima County,” said Randy Fozzard, director of simulcasting for Yavapai.

Vince Francia, director of marketing and media communications for Turf Paradise, said the dispute between Turf Paradise and Tucson Greyhound is about simulcast revenue splits between the two tracks.

“Our hope is to have the issue resolved by the start of the next Turf Paradise meeting,” Francia said.

According to state statute, both the Pima County Horsemen’s Association, which runs Rillito Park, and Tucson Greyhound must agree to the terms of any contract to allow simulcast wagering on horse races in Pima County. In addition, the two parties must also receive the permission of Turf Paradise or Yavapai, depending on which of those two tracks is racing live, before they can conduct simulcast wagering on horse races. As a result, neither Tucson Greyhound nor Rillito can negotiate simulcast contracts with other horse tracks on their own.

Tensions between Turf Paradise and Tucson Greyhound have run high since the spring of 2006, when the Greyhound track publicly opposed legislation that at one point had a provision that would have legalized account wagering in Arizona.

Despite the loss of purse money, the Arizona HBPA supports Turf Paradise’s decision to not renew its contract with Tucson Greyhound.

“The horsemen share in the loss, but we still stand with Turf Paradise on the issue,” Arizona HBPA secretary and treasurer Sarah Struck said.

Bettors can still patronize Tucson Greyhound or any of its OTB sites and wager on simulcast Greyhound races. Tucson Greyhound officials couldn’t be reached for comment.