California State Senator Dean Florez announced April 20 that he intends to introduce legislation that allows California racetracks to retain their license fees, using those funds, amounting to about $40 million a year, to increase purses and provide breeders' awards and incentives.
The legislation, Senate Bill 873, is designed to help California’s struggling tracks stay competitive nationally without the controversial addition of slot machines, by allowing tracks to retain more of their earnings. The measure provides assistance from gaming tribes, whose expanding empire has been a factor in the erosion of the state's racing program.
Florez, a democrat from Shafter, chairs the committee that oversees both Indian gaming and horse racing in California. He said he has heard repeatedly during hearings on tribal compacts from those in the horse racing industry who believe they cannot compete with out-of-state tracks which allow slots and other alternative forms of gambling, particularly with the rise of Indian gaming in their home state. Florez said he has also heard from tribal leaders who say they do not want their success to come at the expense of a long-standing California industry that employs so many people.
In addition to bolstering purses and breeders' award, SB 873 would help fund health, welfare and retirement programs for professional California jockeys and their dependents.
“This measure will allow California tracks to offer purses and venues that are on par with the best tracks in the nation, putting a product in front of the fans and the wagering public that encourage them to get excited again about California’s place in racing,” Florez said.
Horse racing tracks currently pay the state approximately $40 million dollars a year in license fees, which are deposited into the Fair and Exposition Fund to support the California fair network, the California Horse Racing Board and the Maddy Equine Research Laboratory at University of California-Davis. Florez noted that California’s agricultural fairs have operated for more than 75 years without any taxpayer support thanks to the horse racing industry.
Additional support would come from an infusion of tribal gaming revenues which would be generated by newly-amended compacts currently under consideration in the California State Assembly. Contingent on the passage of the new compacts, SB 873 would call for the first $60 million generated by those amended agreements -- or future ones -- to be deposited in the Fair and Exposition Fund to restore funding for those programs previously supported by the horse racing license fees. Portions of the funds deposited would also be used to fund badly-needed health and safety projects at fairs throughout the state and repay debt service for improvements at four public fairground horse racing facilities.
“The Governor and the tribes have both said they don’t want racing to become a thing of the past in California,” Florez said. “Here is their chance to put their money where their mouth is.”