Arizona Tracks to Lobby to Seek VLTs

One Thoroughbred race track and three Greyhound race tracks have joined forces to lobby the Arizona Legislature to install video lottery terminals in the their facilities. The group comprises of Turf Paradise, a Thoroughbred track in Phoenix, Tucson Greyhound Park, and American Greyhound Racing, the company that owns both Apache Greyhound Park and Phoenix Greyhound Park.

The newly formed group, named the Arizona Racetrack Association, has been formed to help the horse and greyhound tracks compete against the state's 19 Indian casinos in the state for the gaming dollar. Their goal will be for the installation of VLTs at their facilities.

If successful, it would be the first form of gaming other than pari-mutuel wagering in Arizona that is not on an Indian reservation.

A proponent of the group is the Arizona Thoroughbred Breeders Association. "We're strong supporters of the ARA," said ATBA president Frank Covello. "Our goal is for the Legislature to put an issue on the ballot to allow us to have VLTs."

According to Covello, the best chance of passage would be for the initiative to be handled by state referendum, not an individual bill. Gov. Jane Hull would have veto power over a VLT bill and is on the record as being against any form of expanded gaming in the state.

The Arizona Department of Racing is neutral on any position on expanded gaming said the ADOR's Wade Turner. According to department figures, $61 million was generated at all Arizona pari-mutuel tracks in fiscal 2001, up from $58 million the year before. While those figures are "less the return to the general public and less taxes to the state," Turner noted those figures did not include purse payments and expenses to run the facilities. In fiscal 2001, Arizona Thoroughbred and Greyhound tracks paid out $23.6 million in purses.

Two lobbyists have been hired by the ATBA: former state representative Jim Skelly, and Elaine Arena. They will have their first formal meeting with a group that will meet with the Legislature on Friday.

"It's going to be a war," Covello said. "But I'm guardedly optimistic."