Legalized gambling returns to Marana - Tucson Local Media: Import

Legalized gambling returns to Marana

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Posted: Tuesday, September 13, 2005 11:00 pm

September 14, 2005 - Residents in the Northwest looking to legally lay down a few extra dollars on a race will have the opportunity to do so without having to stray far from the house.

After a considerable hiatus, legalized gambling will return to the Northwest in the form of horse and dog racing when the Old Father Inn, 4080 W. Ina Road, reopens its doors to the wagering community with a new off-track betting facility.

Starting in October, simulcast racing from Tucson Greyhound Park will be available at the 25-year-old Marana restaurant. In addition to dog racing, Old Father Inn will carry live races from horse and dog tracks from throughout the country via satellite.

On Sept. 6, the Marana Town Council unanimously approved a resolution to permit the installation and operation of a parimutuel wagering facility at Old Father Inn.

"What we try to create is an atmosphere of entertainment," said Tony Fasulo, chief operating officer for Tucson Greyhound Park, 2601 S. Third Ave., "not a hardcore type gambling atmosphere where people are in there solely to win money. We want to make it a nice atmosphere. It's a sport. It's entertaining."

The facility becomes the ninth in the Tucson metro area and first in the Northwest since the park's last gambling outpost was stationed at the now closed Silverado Steak House, 6751 N. Thornydale Road.

Tucson Greyhound Park makes a concerted effort to limit the number of off-track betting facilities throughout the metro area so outlets, most of which are restaurants, aren't competing against one another, Fasulo said. The next closest off-track betting facility to the Northwest can be found at the Arizona Ale House, 95 W. River Road.

To accommodate its newest betting location, Tucson Greyhound Park will construct a teller's booth, a self-serving betting booth and phone lines, and will hire a teller to work independently from Old Father Inn.

In an effort to attract more customers, the restaurant also will add 10 new television sets, including several flat screens to go behind the bar, to the 20 sets it already has. With a full menu, bar and dining area, Old Father Inn has a loyal contingent of customers - "regulars," as owner Frank Silverman describes them. Silverman is hedging his bets that the addition of off-track betting to his restaurant will pay off in the form of more dinners and drink orders from more customers.

Old Father Inn won't profit directly from the off-track betting.

"It will increase our revenue, but we won't see a dime from the state," Silverman said. The state, through Tucson Greyhound Park, will handle all expenses, construction and cash flow generated by the off-track betting.

Off-track betting is not a new endeavor for Old Father Inn. The restaurant was the Northwest's off-track home for horse and dog betting up until 2001, when it transferred its permit to the Silverado Steak House because it was deemed more accommodating.

Silverado was forced to abandon its betting facility after falling on financially strained times, leaving the Northwest without an off-track betting location.

"It did bring in a lot of people for big races," said Silverman, referencing nationally recognized events as the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes. Silverman and his wife Marsha have owned Old Father Inn for nine years.

Old Father Inn was the logical choice for the new betting facility, said Fasulo, who cited the restaurant's past experience and its spacious 6,000-square-foot interior.

Patrons will be able to place money on races going on at Tucson Greyhound Park, as well as on heats at other horse tracks around the state and the nation. Tucson Greyhound Park is a simulcast partner with 23 other such facilities throughout the country in places such as Birmingham, Ala., Tampa, Fla., and Corpus Christi, Texas.

Annually, commercial horse and greyhound racing attracts more than 1.5 million people to the tracks and off-track betting facilities throughout the state.

According to the Arizona Department of Racing's 2004 report, those putting money down at the track or at off-track facilities generated a Parimutuel handle of $245.5 million in revenue in 2004 alone. That number has been slightly decreasing since 2000, which came close to topping the $258 million mark. The bulk of the revenue comes from off-track betting, which netted a little more than $157 million in 2004.

Fasulo estimates that 75 to 80 percent of all money wagered at horse and dog tracks throughout the United States comes from Parimutuel betting at off-track betting facilities.

Parimutuel wagering essentially is regulated pool betting. When a wager is made, it goes directly into the common pool generated by the host track - in this case Tucson Greyhound Park. This allows others at different facilities to bet on races at the host track or at other tracks at cooperating facilities.

"You can be in there with only 20 people wagering," Fasulo said, "but they may be participating in pools of major host tracks, which can have a $30,000 payoff, so there's no limitation."

In parimutuel betting, after the state takes a percentage for taxes and the park takes its share, the balance of the pool goes directly back the public.

Racing at the Tucson Greyhound Park goes year round, six days a week.

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