The Del Mar Fair Board customarily concerns itself with horses, but Tuesday's discussion was about a money-making animal of a different sort--a cash cow called satellite betting.
Just two weeks after Gov. George Deukmejian signed a bill legalizing satellite betting at Southern California race tracks, the fair board met to decide who will control Del Mar's piece of the action, estimated at $1.6 million to $6 million annually.
The Del Mar Thoroughbred Club sought to control the satellite betting operation to ensure that net revenues are plowed back into race track facilities rather than being spent on the county fair or other activities held at the fairgrounds.
Roger Vitaich, the fair board's general manager, recommended that fair board employees be put in control of the satellite betting operations. He made no recommendation on how the "profits" should be spent, leading some horsemen to worry that they might be nosed out in this mega-stakes race.
Board Sides With Vitaich
In the end, the fair board sided with Vitaich and put fair board employees in charge, but also kept race track interests clearly in the saddle.
The board voted unanimously to have fair board employees run the satellite betting operation, with the thoroughbred club acting as a consultant, and to earmark at least 75% of the net revenues for new race track facilities--namely, a new, $60-million, 15,000-seat grandstand to be ready for the 1990 fair and racing season.
The satellite betting bill will allow gamblers to place bets at Del Mar for thoroughbred, harness and quarter-horse races at other Southern California tracks, as well as selected out-of-state races such as the Kentucky Derby.
It is estimated that satellite betting will be open 250 days a year at Del Mar, with wide-screen televisions and parimutuel windows.
In turn, fans at Hollywood Park, Santa Anita, Las Alamitos and various county fair tracks will be able to bet on Del Mar races by satellite during its 43-day season.
Local Bets to Drop
Under the complex formula contained in the satellite bill, the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club is anticipating a sizeable drop in the local handle--the amount bet each day Del Mar is running--as out-of-town fans decide to bet by satellite. To make up that difference, the club wanted in on Del Mar's satellite operation for other tracks.
The club, a nonprofit operation, is in the 18th year of a 20-year contract to run racing at Del Mar. Under the contract, 75% of its net revenue goes for race track facilities. That formula has brought $25 million for track improvements over the years.
Club President John Mabee told board members that if they were considering using satellite revenues for non-race track facilities, they should remember that the money, in part, is coming out of the hide of the thoroughbred club and therefore the track itself.
"The Del Mar Thoroughbred Club is dedicated to one thing: better racing and better facilities here at Del Mar," said Mabee, who is a major owner of the Big Bear supermarket chain and an insurance company owner.
"We have been here solid for 18 years. You have been here a short time, in a political seat. You may not be here in six years."
Fair board member Bob L. Vice said the board's decision to earmark at least 75% of satellite net revenue for a new grandstand should convince the Race Track Leasing Commission that Del Mar is serious about building the grandstand. The commission, a state agency, has to approve any bonding plan to pay for the grandstand.
Satellite betting is slated to begin at Del Mar on Nov. 18, with the opening day of the winter season at Hollywood Park. Because the operation is new to Southern California, estimates on the number of patrons and amount of betting have varied widely.
"I think it is very important that we get this thing off with a bang so we do not have to come back later and say it didn't work," board member Jack Ford said.