horse races

Arizonans will soon no longer have to leave their homes to gamble legally.

Gov. Jan Brewer signed legislation Monday to permit what the industry calls “advance deposit wagering” on horse and dog races. That would allow betting by phone not only the handful of races that still occur in Arizona but on other tracks throughout the country.

Those phone wagers could be placed as soon as this summer when the law is set to take effect, but it could take a bit longer for the state Department of Racing to come up with the legally necessary rules, even with an exemption from the normal process.

The change was pushed by Michael Racy, lobbyist for Tucson Greyhound Park, as a method of providing more dollars both for track and animal owners. In testimony earlier this year to a Senate committee, he said the funds would help keep live racing alive.

That, however, may not be a universal goal, with groups that are interesting in banning dog racing — at least in its current form. In fact, South Tucson approved an ordinance in 2008 to ban the use of steroids in dogs, but the track got around it by having the animals injected before they got to the city.

Eventually the city backed down and agreed not to enforce the law. To prevent further problems, proponents of dog racing had language inserted into this legislation spelling out that cities are legally precluded from enacting any local laws on racing. The broader implication of the law, though, is the idea of wagering by phone.

Racy told senators that maintaining live racing has been “an increasing challenge over the last many years.” He said allowing phone wagering simply “modernizes” state law.

“It doesn't authorize any new or different form of gaming,” Racy testified.

“It just recognizes that the world is changing on how that takes place,” he continued. “We are certainly in support of that.”

Arizona law already allows various forms of off-track betting.

Patrons at horse and dog tracks can wager not only on local races but races that are “teletracked” in by video. And tracks also are allowed to make arrangements to take wagers on local and remote races at bars and other sites.

This new law takes that a step farther, allowing Arizonans to stay home.

First, however, they would have to transfer money into a special account. Then, they could wager only what is in that account on horse and dog races at participating tracks.

Several other states, including New York, Illinois and California, already have similar programs.

“It is happening in Arizona,” Racy told lawmakers.

“But it is happening illegally,” he said. “And it's happening without regulation.”

Sen. Steve Pierce, R-Prescott, sponsor of the legislation, said all it takes now is having some address listed in another state. With this, said Pierce, Arizona will “capture revenue that is currently going to California.”

Racy said legalizing it means not only having state regulation and oversight but also having both this state and the tracks here be able to share in the revenues.

In agreeing to sign the measure Monday, Brewer said she finds nothing unusual about betting on horse and dog races.

“Pari-mutuel wagering has been permitted in Arizona since early statehood,” she wrote. Brewer said all this does is allow those bets to be placed by phone, saying the measure “does not authorize and cannot be construed as authorizing Internet gaming.”

That is more than a question of computers versus phones.

Arizona voters approved a measure in 2002 giving Indian tribes the exclusive right to operate casinos in Arizona and conduct certain kinds of gambling. That law also limits the number of gaming devices any one tribe can have.

But that same law also spells out that if Arizona expands the kinds of gambling allowed, then any limits on tribal gaming disappear. Brewer, in signing the legislation, said this measure — if limited to phone wagering — does not trigger that clause.

“It is the well-established position of the state that Internet gaming is not authorized in Arizona and, if pursued, the state will steadfastly and aggressively litigate any attempt to commerce Internet gaming in Arizona,” the governor wrote.

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