Racing board legislation reined in

A state reform effort that came about as a response to the threatened early loss of Bay Meadows has been put on hold, possibly until after the storied 73-year-old track runs its last season’s races.

State Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco/San Mateo, has decided to leave his attempts to limit the number of racing stakeholders who can sit on the California Horse Racing Board until next year, when he feels there is a better chance for approval from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“There may be some amendments, but at the end of the day, we’re not looking to change it all,” Yee’s spokesman Adam Keigwin said. “[The bill] has had good support in committee; we just need to work on the wording of how people are removed.”

Senate Bill 863 would limit the number of racing stakeholders on the board to three. Five of the seven current board members are horse owners.

Appointment to the board requires approval by both the state Senate and governor, a process that board Vice Chairman John Harris says already acts as a safeguard.

“If the Senate doesn’t want an owner on the board, they don’t have to confirm them,” Harris said.

Harris said the legislation is not a “noble effort,” butrather the expression of Yee’s own vendetta against the board members for almost forcing Bay Meadows to close at the end of 2007 unless the owners of the track would install the state-mandated synthetic track surface.

“I feel that it’s just politics at its worst. It’s just an attempt to intimidate the board,” Harris said.

But Keigwin says Yee is simply following practices already in place around the state and country to prevent conflicts of interest in government bodies.

Since the 1940s, the state of New York has barred members of the New York State Racing and Wagering Board from having any financial interest in the sport they are governing.

“We’re the regulators of the entities in the state of New York; we don’t even allow any of our staff to gamble at any of the tracks in the state of New York,” spokesman Dan Toomey said. “It would be imprudent to regulate a sport if one has a financial interest in it.”

In a statement, Schwarzenegger said he would not speculate on upcoming legislation, but said he supports the current members of the board.

jgoldman@examiner.com

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