Two views: New ways of gambling at racetracks

PRO: State horse racing industry must be preserved

With the precipitous decline of horse racing in California, thousands of jobs related to the racing, breeding and care of horses have been disappearing from our state, undermining California’s economy and our important agricultural traditions. In just six years, the number of licensed horse owners in California has decreased by more than 24 percent.

Other states continue to lure horse owners, jockeys, trainers and breeders out of California with larger purses enriched from revenues from alternative forms of gaming such as slot machines. In addition, the expansive casino gaming industry in California has put horse wagering at a severe disadvantage. As a result, we not only have a declining industry but are facing a significant loss in state and local revenue and jobs and a decline of a long-standing tradition.

Clearly, we need to reinvigorate the horse racing industry in California. It is a vital agricultural business and a part of our state’s rich history that should be preserved, but unlike others states, we must do it without expanding gambling. Time and time again, the voters and the Legislature have said “no” when it comes to adding slot machines at racetracks.

It is with these considerations — and the recognition that this historic industry currently contributes $4.1 billion in direct economic benefit and employs approximately 52,000 Californians annually — that I introduced legislation that will provide horse racing enthusiasts an opportunity to place bets on additional races.

Assembly bill 2409 is designed to revive the horse racing industry, not by expanding gambling or allowing slot machines, but by using the same betting mechanism that currently exists at racetracks to conduct pari-mutuel wagering on past, historical horse races. Despite what others who have their own vested interests may say, this is simply horse racing and nothing else. In effect, we would simply be increasing the number of races at the track by taking advantage of new technology that will allow wagering on yesterday’s races today.

The dynamic concept, referred to as “instant horse racing,” allows wagering on 250,000 historical horse races, spanning 30 years of racing history. The consumer has access to the original handicapping information and, after placing a wager, could watch the original race on the machine. This is not very different from placing a bet at Bay Meadows on a horse that is racing at Hollywood Park.

Specifically, AB 2409 authorizes instant horse racing in California, limits its operation to seven locations — all currently operating horse racing tracks — caps the number of instant horse racing devices per location, and requires the California Horse Racing Board to regulate all aspects of instant horse racing.

One such location is our Bay Meadows racetrack in San Mateo, which is currently facing a vigorous debate on its future. Regardless of the outcome of the development project, we need to make the track viable in the short term. Conservative estimates indicate that AB 2409 could bring in $3 million in new, much needed revenue for the city of San Mateo. If the development project moves forward smoothly, we still should have a track that is not losing money in the few years ahead. If the development does not move forward and the voters of San Mateo say they want to save the track, then this proposal could make the track viable in the long term as well.

AB 2409 has already gained the support of the California Federation of Labor, Teamsters Union, California Thoroughbred Breeders Association, Thoroughbred Owners of California, California Thoroughbred Trainers, Jockeys Guild, Hollywood Park racetrack, Bay Meadows Racecourse, Fairplex Park-Los Angeles County Fair, Santa Anita Park, Golden Gate Fields, Los Alamitos Racecourse, Del Mar Thoroughbred Club and the Oak Tree Racing Association, among others.

We have an industry working together on an idea that can be achieved, and we have brought competing interests in San Mateo together — both the racetrack group that wants to develop the track and the folks trying to preserve it — in an effort to revitalize an important California pastime and maintain a vital industry in our state.

This proposal deserves a chance. Together, we will not only bring in much needed revenue for our community, but we can help save an exciting tradition in California.

Leland Yee is the speaker pro tempore of the California state Assembly, representing the 12th District, which includes San Mateo and San Francisco counties.

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