Council opposes betting machines at Bay Meadows

City Council members vehemently oppose an assembly bill that would bring “instant horse racing” betting machines to Bay Meadows and six other racetracks in California, but residents trying to keep the track open say the council does not represent all its citizens in doing so.

AB 2409, sponsored by Assemblyman Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, would legalize machines that allow horse racing fans to bet on 250,000 historical races at the Bay Meadows racetrack and Golden Gate Fields in the East Bay.

San Mateo City Council members Monday said the bill, if passed, would override local opposition to expanded gambling. They also expressed anger that Yee did not consult them before the bill was introduced, although he has spoken to them since then.

The San Mateo City Council voted unanimously in November to redevelop the racetrack site into an 83-acre mixed-use neighborhood, at least in part due to fears of increased gambling on the site.

“We have spent the past five or six years trying to find the answer, and we have been told that horse racing is no longer viable without expanded gambling,” City Council Member Carole Groom said. “And we have made it clear that gaming is not welcome here.”

Mayor John Lee cited a 1995 San Mateo vote against a proposed card room at Bay Meadows and a 2000 statewide vote against allowing slot machines at some racetracks and card rooms as indications that voters oppose gambling operations.

But Donna Bischoff, head of the Save Bay Meadows organization, said fear tactics led voters to oppose the anti-slot-machine initiative. Her group, which is fighting the redevelopment of the racetrack, supports the bill as a way to make horse racing more economically viable in California.

Yee representative Adam Keigwin said it's a mistake to think AB 2409 would expand gambling, although in other states where similar machines have been allowed tracks have been able to increase their purses and revenues.

“The voters have said no time and time again to [expansion of gambling] and the legislation has as well,” Keigwin said. He said that if redevelopment of Bay Meadows goes forward, the bill will financially bolster the racetrack — and the city — in the short term. If it doesn't, it provides a viable future for Bay Meadows.

Yee, who is a candidate in the State Senate race this fall, has received campaign contributions from local card rooms such as Artichoke Joe's and statewide racing agencies such as the Los Alamitos Race Course, the Oak Tree Racing Association and the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club. The Bay Meadows Land Company, which owns the track, is among those in support of Yee's bill, although a spokesman has said it probably would not affect the company's plans to redevelop.

A senate-committee discussion of the bill, scheduled for today, has been postponed, Keigwin said.

Meanwhile, continuing legal action over the Friends of Bay Meadows's efforts to take the Bay Meadows redevelopment plan to the ballot returns to court Thursday. The group collected signatures in favor of a referendum and has since sued San Mateo County's elections office for rejecting some of those signatures as invalid.

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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