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Floyd Takes on New Crusade--Sports Betting--Despite Odds


SACRAMENTO — With the ink barely dry on his mandatory motorcycle helmet law, Assemblyman Richard E. Floyd has quickly turned his attention to a proposition likely to draw just as much fire: an initiative to legalize sports betting in California.

And those backing the proposal are hoping that the attention the Carson Democrat has attracted because of the helmet law can help the gambling initiative get off the ground.

Floyd, who championed the controversial helmet bill for a decade before Gov. Pete Wilson signed it into law on Monday, "obviously now has statewide credibility," said Bill Mashburn, treasurer of Californians to Reform Gaming, the committee Floyd helped organize to launch the initiative drive.

Under the proposed constitutional amendment, local governments would have the option to allow wagering on sports and levy a business tax on licensed, Nevada-style "sports books." These establishments could be located at horse racetracks, county fairs, major hotels and card clubs, including those in Commerce, Bell, Bell Gardens and Huntington Park.

The initiative calls for proceeds of a 6% state tax on the betting parlors' gross revenues to be split among local governments and state programs for the elderly.

Floyd said he is appealing directly to the voters to put the dicey issue on the ballot because he suspects that his legislative colleagues would refuse to help him out. "You can't get them to admit being in a bar or casino," chortled Floyd, let alone support a gambling measure.

But, Floyd said, "Everybody gambles . . . everyone's grandmother jumps on a bus to gamble" in Las Vegas or Lake Tahoe, Nev. Floyd concedes to periodically feeling the betting urge, and complains that when he wants to put money on football games, he must drive across the state line to Nevada to place a legal wager.

Floyd is counting on backing from like-minded sports fans. On Tuesday night, he stepped up his campaign, seeking support during a radio sports talk program broadcast from Sacramento.

But Floyd acknowledged that his chances of success are far from a sure thing. He also dismissed suggestions that his newfound celebrity status--he refers to it as his "15 minutes of fame"--will help him get the initiative on the ballot.

The gaming-reform group will have 150 days to collect the valid signatures of 615,958 registered voters to qualify the measure for the June, 1992, election ballot. Supporters hope to begin the petition process in June.

If the proposal gets on the ballot, Floyd can count on big-time opposition from leaders of the professional football and basketball leagues, who argue that gambling undercuts the integrity of their product.

As his fight over the helmet bill demonstrated, Floyd does not shrink from facing off against his critics. Just last Sunday, Floyd showed up at a Capitol rally organized to oppose his helmet bill and confronted angry opponents demanding his ouster from office.

But Floyd, whose district includes Hawthorne, Lawndale, Gardena, Carson and North Redondo Beach, said he does not expect the gambling fight to become as personally contentious. One reason may be that Floyd plans to leave the nuts and bolts of the campaign to the gaming reform committee.

Floyd unveiled his gambling proposal in October, 1989, aiming for a spot on the November, 1990, ballot. But he decided that the ballot was filled with too many other propositions, and temporarily shelved the idea. Moreover, an aide said, the assemblyman encountered unexpected opposition from thoroughbred horse-racing interests.

Floyd, seeking to sweeten the revised initiative proposal for the tracks, inserted a provision to establish a California Sweepstakes, in which the outcome of a horse race will determine the outcome of a lucrative new California Lottery game. Floyd predicted that the new Lottery game, plus betting parlors at tracks, would boost race-track attendance.

Cliff Goodrich, president of the Los Angeles Turf Club, which operates Santa Anita Park, said that although he considers Floyd a friend of his track, he still opposes the initiative.

Said Goodrich: "Sports betting would be another form of entertainment that would compete with our business. . . . Sports betting would clearly harm us, as the lottery has."

Pete Abitante, director of information for the National Football League, said the NFL opposes legalized betting because it would reduce fan confidence in the integrity of professional football. He said that legal wagering would change the way the majority of fans approach the game. Instead of "coming out to root for their favorite team," they would be "coming out to root for a point spread."

A spokesperson for the National Basketball Assn. said the league "has consistently opposed sports betting, and we will vigorously oppose Floyd's plans."

In contrast, George Anthony, owner of the El Dorado Club, a Gardena card club, supports Floyd's proposal, saying, "It's a way to get more business to card clubs" and take it away from illegal bookmakers.

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