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California Bar Nears Mini-Satellite Approval

San Clemente tavern would be first such establishment under 2007 state law.

A San Clemente, Calif., tavern moved one step closer July 6 to becoming the state's first bar or restaurant to offer wagering on horse races under a 2007 law authorizing "mini-satellites."

The San Clemente City Council, by a 5-0 vote, decided that OC Tavern, by giving local race fans a place to wager and socialize, was acting consistently with other types of entertainment offered at such facilities. The four-year-old tavern is a restaurant/bar that offers live music entertainment.

The California Horse Racing Board during its June 22 meeting approved OC Tavern's application to operate for two years. All that remains, according to tavern owner and manager Michael Merrigan, is to amend the facility's conditional use permit and approve rules of operation for the new wagering site. He said the San Clemente Planning Commission would consider those changes an undetermined date.

Merrigan said he could be ready to open the mini-satellite soon after he gets the go-ahead. Unfortunately, he added, the approval process would not conclude in time for the opening of the Del Mar summer meet July 21.

The tavern will add a dedicated room for racing with flat-screen televisions, betting machines, and seating for about 70-75 patrons with additional patio space for up to 30 more. Under provisions of the 2007 state law that authorized such establishments, Southern California Off Track Wagering Inc. would manage the site. Live teller support would be determined by the amount of wagering activity, according to a CHRB staff report.

The OC Tavern, located in southern Orange County, does not fall within the law's prohibited 20-mile radius of Del Mar or Los Alamitos Race Course or any other satellite wagering facility or tribal casino. Initially, it would be open from noon to 6 p.m. on Wednesdays through Sundays with selected Mondays and holidays, Merrigan said. There is no admission charge planned and patrons must be 21.

"We're doing all the right steps and moving forward," Merrigan said. "It's been a lot of hard work, but we're almost there. We're proud to be the first to have this opportunity. It's exciting."

Merrigan believes the addition of wagering will bring in a new clientele for the tavern and attract new fans to racing. He said the establishment has enjoyed much success catering to a sports crowd.

"Everyone I've talked to about this is a fan of horse racing or is a friend of others that are," he said. "Our slogan is 'Something for Everyone' and this certainly works with that."

The OC Tavern would be the second mini-satellite facility established in the state. The Commerce Club, a card-playing facility that opened a race wagering addition nearly two years ago, is the other. Both are in Southern California.

The legislation authorizes up to 45 mini-satellites throughout the state but efforts to develop similar projects in the San Francisco Bay Area  have been hampered by the 20-mile restriction. A bill that would have reduced the prohibited distance to 15 miles was defeated in the Legislature last month in part because of the opposition to it by the California Authority of Racing Fairs.

CARF, which came under sharp criticism from CHRB Chairman Keith Brackpool for its position during the June 22 commission meeting, was acting in support of the existing fair network of satellite wagering facilities, according to executive director Christopher Korby.