11/28/2001 12:00AM

Turf Paradise principal to divest

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Jerry Simms, the majority owner of Turf Paradise in Phoenix, Ariz., is close to reaching an agreement with state regulators to sell his stake in the track and step back from any management position, track and state officials said Wednesday.

"The negotiations are continuing and ongoing," said Christa Severns, the public information officer of the Arizona Department of Gaming. Severns said the deal would likely result in Simms immediately surrendering any management control at the track and agreeing to sell his stake in the track within the next six months.

State regulators have been seeking the deal because of concerns over Simms's connection to reputed crime figures and the role he played in several bribery scandals in California. Although he was initially licensed by the Arizona Department of Racing shortly after announcing an agreement to buy the track for $53 million in June 2000, Simms's license was revoked this year.

Simms owns 54 percent of the track, with smaller shares held by his brother Ronald and several others, track officials said.

Randy Fozzard, president of Turf Paradise, said that Simms is hoping to put the legal concerns behind him and has dropped all plans, for now, to appeal his license revocation.

Under Simms's 18-month tenure, Turf Paradise has posted strong gains in ontrack handle and attendance, in part because of a $4.5 million renovation to the grandstand. The renovations included installing a Las Vegas-style sports book in the clubhouse's upper floor, which is drawing many of Phoenix's biggest bettors to the track.