11/22/2006 12:00AM

Turf Paradise granted permit

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Over the objections of a state racing official, the Arizona Racing Commission last week voted 4-1 to grant Turf Paradise its permit to continue live racing and simulcasting through January 2009.

Geoffrey Gonsher, the director of the Arizona Racing Department, had recommended the commission deny owner Jerry Simms the permit, saying he was unfit to operate the track based on inappropriate "personal and business history." Gonsher in a report cited Simms's friendship with the racing commission chairman, Burton Kruglick, as a possible conflict of interest, although he noted that there is no indication Simms ever tried to influence Kruglick. The racing department denied Simms a racing license in 2003 - a decision overturned by the commission - based on his involvement in a California real estate scandal in the 1990's. Simms's attorney, Gerald Alston, noted Simms had not been cited for any violations since he bought the track in 2000.

In granting the permit, commissioners cited Simms's progress in fixing numerous problems at the 51-year-old facility. They also may have been swayed by arguments by some that denying the permit could bring about the demise of racing in Arizona.

Commissioner Bob Ford, who voted "no" three years ago when Simms was granted a license by a 3-2 vote, said the approval was the best decision for the state's racing industry.

Commissioner Erin Owens-Hall was the lone dissenter, saying that while Simms had moved to make repairs to the facility and improve safety issues, he had only done so after constant urging by the racing department.