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And Now, Via Satellite . . . Off-Track Betting Coming to Del Mar

November 12, 1987|ANTHONY PERRY | Times Staff Writer

Gentlemen, start your satellites.

Off-track betting at the Del Mar Fairgrounds is on the fast track, and opening day is but a week away.

At 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, the gates will open at Del Mar for the first day of what promises to be a 250-day-a-year "watch and wager" season where horse fans can plunk down bets for tracks at Hollywood Park, Santa Anita, Los Alamitos and Pomona, as well as selected out-of-state races like the Triple Crown.

"This is not a telephone booth operation," said Fair Board General Manager Roger Vitaich.

Indeed.

First, the numbers: 76 color television monitors (including 10 45-inch diagonal and two 60-inch diagonal screens), 120 parimutuel windows, numerous automated teller windows, $350,000 in new furnishings, carpeting and spruce-up for the lower clubhouse and Turf Club, thousands of comfy armchairs, and two 12-foot diagonal satellite dishes to ensure crystal-clear wire-to-wire reception.

Next, the amenities: full bar service in both clubhouse and Turf Club, food concessions everywhere, champagne brunches on Sundays, salad bars for weight-conscious gamblers, specialty buffets, free parking ($5 for valet assistance), and a dress code to eliminate riffraff in the Turf Club.

All of this for a daily admission of $2 for the clubhouse, and $5 for the Turf Club, which is open to all. During Del Mar's own 43-day meet the Turf Club is open only to members.

Fair officials are too polite to say it, but they clearly want to quickly out-dice the Caliente race track in Tijuana to become the off-track betting location of choice for San Diego County residents.

"Our off-track program will be of a much higher scale than anything we've seen anywhere else," said Fair Board facilities manager Barbara Dowdy. "We want to entice people to come out for Sunday champagne brunch or to have a nice lunch or dinner and to place a few bets while they're here."

The opening is timed for the first day of the Hollywood Park fall meet for thoroughbreds, which runs through Christmas Eve.

The first big test of the new Del Mar setup will be Nov. 21, the Breeder's Cup Day at Hollywood Park, with purses ranging as high as $3 million.

Also starting next Wednesday is quarterhorse racing nightly from Los Alamitos, with doors opening at 6:30 p.m.

Race fans will be betting the same odds as at the home track. Any betting combinations such as PIX SIX, Exactas or Daily Doubles that are offered at the home track will also be available at Del Mar.

After years of legislative wrangling, Gov. George Deukmejian signed the Southern California satellite wagering bill on Sept. 28, and Del Mar Fair Board officials broke quickly from the gate. As they see it, the first year is only a beginning.

Within a year, they envision a new $6-million, two-story facility devoted exclusively to off-track betting. Fans would watch the races on theater-size screens, amid homey surroundings and posh restaurants.

To make sure no time is lost, the Fair Board on Tuesday voted to empower a two-man committee to hire a Huntington Beach architectural firm to begin work immediately on the off-track facility.

The reason behind the Fair Board's zeal for off-track betting is simple: There is a lot of money in it for the fairgrounds and race track if it succeeds.

Initial estimates are that off-track will lure an average of 2,000 fans a day to Del Mar, with a $400,000 daily handle.

That figures out to a $2 million annual gross to the Fair Board, which has already earmarked most of it for a new $60-million grandstand and other improvements, like an enlarged horse arena big enough for rodeos and mud-bog automotive racing. The Fair Board's slice of the concessions will boost the take even further.

With the stakes so large, Fair Board officials are watching over preparations for opening day with the interest usually reserved for a neck-and-neck duel in the Kentucky Derby.

"So far," board member Bob Spanjian reported to his colleagues Tuesday, "everything we've ordered has been received on time."

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