California Racing Lobbyist Rod Blonien Dies

Rod Blonien, a tireless California lobbyist for horse racing and gambling interests, died at his home in Sacramento March 13 of an apparent heart attack.

Blonien, 65, was a former official in the George Deukmejian administration, first as the governor's legislative secretary and later as undersecretary of the California Department of Corrections.

After founding his own lobbying firm in 1987, he was instrumental in helping pass most major racing legislation in the state going back to the formation of the satellite wagering network in the late 1980s, said Kirk Breed, a fellow lobbyist at the time who is now the executive director of the California Horse Racing Board.

Blonien represented Los Alamitos Race Course and the Commerce Club Casino, the state's largest card club. He also lobbied on behalf of Hollywood Park and the Thoroughbred Owners of California at different times, Breed said.

"It's a big, big loss. Rodney was a great friend and colleague for many, many years. We lied to each other and we stole from each other," Breed said with a laugh. "But as far as the whole gaming business, he was the go-to guy. I think the stress of the whole thing is what got to him."

Among the more recent legislative moves Blonien supported were advance deposit wagering and mini-satellites at bar and restaurants. He was also behind legislation authorizing video poker in California that is pending. Breed said Blonien was most helpful to racing by convincing legislators that more wagering handle needed to go to the tracks and horsemen and less of it to the state.

"Everything that took money (handle) away from the state and directed it to the tracks, he was the guy who steered it," Breed said.

A native of Wisconsin, he is survived by his wife, Noreen, four children, and 11 grandchildren, as well as a brother and sister.

A rosary is to be held March 15 at 6:30 p.m. at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament. A funeral Mass at the cathedral is March 16 at 10 a.m.

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