01/02/2018 11:58AM

Turf Paradise putting an end to phone betting

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Turf Paradise in Phoenix will suspend phone betting by Arizona citizens on its races as of Jan. 9, citing the cannibalization of its ontrack handle and wagering through its in-state off-track betting network.

The suspension will put an end to a practice that began three years ago when the state legislature passed a law allowing for phone betting on horse races but restricting the practice to a relatively archaic method of placing the bets manually over the phone, rather than allowing bettors to use mobile apps or computer programs, as is customary in every other major racing state.

Vincent Francia, the general manager of Turf Paradise, said that betting through phone accounts in Arizona has averaged approximately $14 million a year over the past two years. However, that handle produced approximately one-third of the revenue for the track and its horsemen compared with the revenue from wagering at the track and through its in-state network of bars and restaurants that offer betting on races, Francia said.

Turf Paradise had partnered with major account-wagering operations to provide options to Arizona customers that complied with the state’s restrictive law. Those contracts will all have expired by Jan. 8, Francia said. The track is urging customers to withdraw their money from the accounts.

Francia acknowledged that the suspension is a blow to horseplayers in the state, even considering the limitations placed on the practice by the law. But he also said Turf Paradise was hopeful that overall wagering would grow with telephone wagering in place, but did not get those results over the past three years. OTBs were especially hurt by drops in business, Francia said.

The track will push the legislature for a more expansive law beginning this year, Francia said, but gambling legislation in Arizona can be heavily influenced by the state’s vast network of tribal casinos, which have resisted efforts to expand gambling to the internet to protect their massive investments in brick-and-mortar casino-resorts throughout the state.

“We took what was offered,” Francia said, about the legislation that was passed in 2014. “We wanted to get our foot in the door. But it didn’t work out the way we wanted it to. Let’s face it. The world does business on the internet.”