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The issue of pari-mutuel racing in Utah has attracted plenty of attention within the state, but perhaps the most interested bystander lives just across the Wyoming state line.

Joe Joyce, chief executive officer of Wyoming Downs, would just as soon pari-mutuel betting and the Beehive State continue on separate courses.His reason is simple. Survival.

"If pari-mutuel wagering is approved in Utah and horsemen in Utah decide they are going to go head-to-head against Wyoming Downs, it will be enough damage to close us down," said Joyce. "It's going to be a no-win situation."

The race track Joyce purchased from Heartland Federal Savings of Tulsa, Okla., on March 21, 1989, has enjoyed modest financial success at its location 10 miles north of Evanston. But it hasn't been easy.

While Joyce recognizes the avid support of horsemen for Utah betting, he doesn't think they have enough experience to operate and manage a track.

Reports that the horsemen could handle $300,000 a day with 25 pari-mutuel machines is a small measure of that inexperience, he said.

"It takes me 60 machines to handle $200,000 in three days," Joyce said. "Besides, there isn't a track in Utah that has any room for parimutuel machines, much less the power you need to keep the computers going.

"I think they should have a right to vote. I hope they vote on it. I hope the vote goes down because I think that's what's best for racing in Utah as well as for Wyoming."

The past three years have been eventful for Joyce. He's breathed life into a track ridden with problems and made it an enjoyable place to spend a Saturday and Sunday afternoon.

But, he said, going head-to-head with a Utah track in virtually the same market would spell his demise.

"The market isn't that big to start with," said Joyce. "This is just a fact of numbers and economics. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure this out."

When Joyce took over as the track's new owner, Wyoming Downs was a place where financial obligations, purse payouts and even wagering tickets weren't met. Public confidence in its overall operation had been drained, and horsemen, trainers, jockeys and paying customers were avoiding it in droves.

"What happened was unfortunate and in fairness to the previous owners, there was no way in the world they were going to pay the debt service on this track and operate it," said Joyce.

The track is economically viable, he said, because he was able to buy it at less than it was worth and was able to buy out the off-track betting franchise for the state from a company called Lab Brook last September.

"The combination of the two is working," said Joyce. "On the national racing scene, it's the simulcasting operation, off track, that's making live racing economically viable and that's certainly true in Wyoming."