Bill could end live greyhound racing in Tucson without closing track

2014-03-29T00:00:00Z 2014-12-03T10:03:59Z Bill could end live greyhound racing in Tucson without closing trackBy Darren DaRonco
and Joe Ferguson Arizona Daily Star
Arizona Daily Star

Live dog racing could come to an end in Southern Arizona without Tucson Greyhound Park shuttering its doors.

A Tucson legislator wants to amend a state law prohibiting tracks from offering off-track betting to patrons unless the facility holds a minimum of 100 days of live racing a year.

Currently, only smaller counties, such as Apache County, are exempted from the law.

Rep. Ethan Orr, R-Tucson, said he believes it’s time everyone is treated equally.

“If it applies in one county, why not them all,” Orr said.

Orr decided to draft the amendment after speaking with different people who would be affected by the proposal, including greyhound advocates.

“It’s something our community is very passionate about: not having to have that racetrack,” Orr said. “This gives the racetrack the option of discontinuing live racing.”

While Tucson Greyhound Park did not return the Star’s calls for comment this week, the park backed a similar bill last year.

Then Tucson Greyhound Park CEO Tom Taylor sought the change as a backup plan so the track could stay open even if business continued to plummet.

“We don’t want to quit (live racing), but when you have a certain number of factors out of your control, you need to have a contingency plan,” Taylor said last year. “The only thing that is going to protect us, is to not have live racing.”

Foes of greyhound racing cheered Orr’s proposal.

“The stars are aligned on this right now,” said Tucson Councilman Steve Kozachik, a longtime critic of the track.

“The Legislature has the chance right now to end live racing in Arizona by decoupling it from simulcast, taxing the gaming revenues and using them to fund CPS or education. That’s a win, place and show all in one simple legislative act.”

Susan Via, an activist opposed to greyhound racing, said the legislation represents a win for both the state and the racetrack owners.

She said the state will save money by no longer having to inspect the track and the track owners can do away with the actual races, which she said no one is interested in anyway.

Rillito Park Racetrack could also see benefits from the bill.

One of two groups vying for a new contract to continue thoroughbred and quarterhorse racing at Rillito wants to bring off-track betting back to the county-owned facility.

The bill might allow the operators of the track to continue cashing in on bettors even after the track’s roughly eight-week horse racing season ends.

Jaye Wells, the director of the Rillito Park Foundation, said the revenues from gambling will help make the facility economically viable for the long term.

Without extra revenue, it’s uncertain how long the horse track could survive.

County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry said the advanced age and general condition of the buildings at the track means it cannot continue indefinitely.

Orr plans to submit the amendment once the budget is finished. He said a majority of the House is behind it and expects the amendment won’t suffer the same fate as last year’s bill.

In addition to the off-track-betting provision, Orr wants to rid the bill of a proposed clause that would allow the Arizona Department of Racing to overrule cities and counties that pass ordinances regarding dog or horse racing.

“I don’t think a state rule-making body should have the ability to preempt local communities when it comes to gambling,” Orr said.

Contact reporter Darren DaRonco at 573-4243 or ddaronco@azstarnet.com. Follow on Twitter @DarrenDaRonco

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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