Bay Meadows ragesagainst slot machines

Bay Meadows has joined with other California racetracks and casinos in the fight against a state deal with American Indian tribes that could crush smaller gambling ventures through, what they say, is unfair competition.

On Friday, UNITE HERE — a labor organization representing hotel, restaurant and entertainment venue employees — filed to overturn a referendum allowing four tribes to drastically increase the number of slot machines in casinos.

Racetracks, such as Bay Meadows, are not allowed to have slot machines — casinos alone have that right in California — and industry leaders say they are economically impacted by that competition.

“Indian gaming has taken its toll on the horse-racing industry much like the Lotto did,” Bay Meadows President Jack Liebau said.

Liebau said that while Bay Meadows will not feel direct impacts of the compacts — because the tribes are all in Southern California — it is another hit to the struggling horse-racing industry in the state, and will directly affect its sister track, Hollywood Park in Inglewood.

As Indian casinos have spread through California, gambling entertainment business once held by horse-racing has been pulled into casinos that dot the state.

UNITE HERE’s California political director, Jack Gribbon, said the expansion of slot machines will put other smaller groups out of business, and concentrate gambling money in an “extremely wealthy gambling cartel.”

Bay Meadows — already slated to close at the end of 2008 to make way for new development — currently employs more than 500 people and contributes approximately $600,000 annually to the city of San Mateo. The track that once hosted crowds 10,000-plus spectators now draws just over 3,000 on an average day.

The expansion is part of new agreements — approved last month by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger — that could create as many as 17,000 new slot machines at casinos in Southern California and generate millions for the state coffers. UNITE HERE has until mid-October to gather approximately 440,000 valid signatures to get a measure against the deals on the upcoming state ballot.

In a statement about the slot-machine deal, Schwarzenegger said the funding will help California fund education, public safety and health care.

“The racetrack industry is already having a very hard time competing with tracks on the East Coast, so there may come a time when owners make a decision to throw in the towel,” Gribbon said. “This will destroy a horse-racing industry that has brought 50,000 working-class jobs to the state.”

jgoldman@examiner.com

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