SACRAMENTO — The Assembly approved legislation Wednesday that would allow gamblers to bet on horse racing by satellite as they watch the races live on big-screen television at tracks and fairgrounds in Southern California.
A bill by Sen. Ken Maddy (R-Fresno), was approved, 64-8, and sent to the Senate for concurrence on amendments.
Racing industry officials estimate that the bill would increase betting by $350 million to $400 million a year, about $50 million of that amount going to higher purses for horse owners and commissions to the race tracks and about $1 million going to the state treasury.
The measure would allow San Diego bettors, for example, to visit Del Mar nearly year-round when that track is idle and place wagers on races held at Santa Anita, Hollywood Park and Los Alamitos, the three major Los Angeles area tracks.
Bettors at the Los Angeles and Orange County tracks and other fairgrounds around Southern California could gamble on the Del Mar races, and a percentage of the money bet would be kept by the facility where the wager is made.
However, the Orange County Fair was excluded from Maddy's bill to protect the Los Alamitos track from close geographical competition. Assemblyman Ross Johnson (R-La Habra) withdrew his opposition to the legislation when a related bill was amended to extend the Orange County Fair's horse racing season from 14 to 18 days.
The Los Angeles County Fair in Pomona and the Antelope Valley Fair in Lancaster would be eligible to broadcast races held outside Los Angeles and Orange counties.
Satellite wagering has been legal in Northern California for three years.
"We were very much in favor of the bill because it's a way to expand racing in Southern California," said Donald Robbins, general manager at Hollywood Park, which also owns Los Alamitos. "The impact on track attendance will be less than 2.5%. . . . It makes horse racing accessible to more people."
Del Mar officials said their seaside track will benefit greatly from the increased revenue. The Del Mar Thoroughbred Club hired former Assemblyman Joe Gonsalvez to lobby the bill through the Legislature.
Joe Harper, the Thoroughbred Club's executive director, said the nonprofit club originally opposed the bill because it limited future growth of Del Mar's purses.
"That was taken out of the bill," Harper said. "Compromises were made that we felt we could live with."
Santa Anita officials have estimated that Del Mar purses will increase from the current $208,000 a day to about $260,000, a jump of more than 20%.
Jill Lloyd, spokeswoman for the Orange County Fair, said fair officials were not pleased by Wednesday's vote despite the planned extension of their horse racing season. "We are disappointed that Sen. Maddy's bill did not include us," she said.
However, she said the fair would not continue fighting the legislation.
"It's a touchy situation because so many other fairs are going to benefit from it," she said. "It's not our intention to have these other fairs lose out."
Maddy's legislation includes provisions that would cut race-track costs by changing several longstanding industry practices. For example, the cost of veterinarians and drug-testing for horses and the salaries of stewards to supervise the racing would be transferred from the tracks to the state.
Also, some of the money generated by satellite betting would be used for vans and stables that cannot be kept at the track hosting a race because of space constraints.