Panel Shelves California Sports Betting Bill

All bets are off this year on California legislation that would have allowed racetracks and simulcast locations to take wagers on professional and collegiate sporting events.

The state Assembly Appropriations Committee Aug. 17 shelved the measure, SB 1390, among dozens of other bills that failed to make it to the floor as the current legislative session winds down. The legislation, introduced in February by Sen. Roderick Wright, D-Inglewood, had passed the Senate on a 33-2 vote May 29.

The bill permits wagering on sporting events by customers attending tracks and simulcast wagering facilities, as well as at tribal casinos and card clubs. It would not have taken effect unless a federal ban on such wagering, through the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, was changed by Congress or overturned in court.

A similar law to California's was passed in New Jersey, which is expected to challenge the existing federal restrictions that allows sports betting in just four states: Nevada, Delaware, Oregon and Montana.

Wright, whose district includes Betfair Hollywood Park, proposed the legislation because he felt California residents should have the right to make sports wagers legally without having to travel across state lines to do it. He also felt it would be a boon to attendance at racetracks while creating jobs and a new revenue source for the budget-challenged state.

The bill drew opposition from the California Police Chiefs Association. Four major professional leagues, who sued New Jersey in federal court earlier this month along with the NCAA over its plans to allow sports wagering, were expected to fight the measure. Some tribal casinos also expressed reservations publicly.

An amendment to the bill would have prohibited placing bets on sporting events involving California colleges and universities.

The measure was strongly endorsed by Horse Racing United, an industry coalition that includes representatives from Santa Anita Park, Del Mar, Golden Gate Fields, Oak Tree Racing Association, Thoroughbred Owners of California, California Thoroughbred Breeders Association, and the California Authority of Racing Fairs.

"While I can't speak for the Assembly, it's obvious in holding the bill that the concern is over the political situation surrounding sports wagering," said Josh Rubenstein, senior vice president for development of Del Mar Thoroughbred Club and spokesman for HRU. "They are taking a step back to allow some of this uncertainty, such as New Jersey, to resolve itself before jumping in. My guess is they don't want to be involved in a lawsuit. But the public obviously has an appetite for sports wagering."

A recent statewide Mervin Field poll showed across-the-board support for sports wagering with 58% of registered voters in favor of legalizing it and only 35% opposed. Rubenstein said he remains optimistic.

"It's something we're very, very interested in," he said, noting that sports wagering can help horse racing as it strives to maintain jobs and its importance to state economy.  "We're disappointed but we're taking a long view of it. We'll keep an eye on New Jersey and if that situation is resolved favorably, hopefully we can move forward fairly quickly."

"It's disappointing news but we we still intend to post the betting lines on the games," said Santa Anita CEO Mark Verge. "Football is going to be part of our marketing. It draws interest, fantasy football and so forth. People love to watch football and they love to bet on it."

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