RGS proteins regulate the duration of G protein signaling by increasing the rate of GTP hydrolysis on G protein alpha subunits. The complex of RGS9 with type 5 G protein beta subunit (G beta 5) is abundant in photoreceptors, where it stimulates the GTPase activity of transducin. An important functional feature of RGS9-G beta 5 is its ability to activate transducin GTPase much more efficiently after transducin binds to its effector, cGMP phosphodiesterase. Here we show that different domains of RGS9-G beta 5 make opposite contributions toward this selectivity. G beta 5 bound to the G protein gamma subunit-like domain of RGS9 acts to reduce RGS9 affinity for transducin, whereas other structures restore this affinity specifically for the transducin-phosphodiesterase complex. We suggest that this mechanism may serve as a general principle conferring specificity of RGS protein action.