Just when you thought things couldn’t get stranger in the political circus surrounding California horse racing, a state legislator has used his influence to block funding for the California Horse Racing Board.
Sen. Leland Yee, a Democrat who represents the San Mateo area, is bitter over the CHRB’s recent decision not to give Bay Meadows an exemption from the board’s mandate that synthetic surfaces be installed at all major tracks in the state by Jan. 1, 2008. Bay Meadows is in Yee’s district.
The de-funding move, executed during a one-minute hearing of a budget subcommittee, makes Yee look petty in his personal war against CHRB chairman Richard Shapiro, who has been an agent for change during his tenure on the board. Far from satisfied with the status quo, Shapiro pushed for synthetic surfaces in hopes it would reduce the rate of injuries to horses racing in the Golden State, which has had a reputation—deserved or not—for hard and fast tracks. Twenty-five horses reportedly died either racing or training at the recently concluded Bay Meadows meeting.
The Bay Meadows Land Co., which owns Bay Meadows as well as Hollywood Park in Southern California, has plans to develop the Bay Area track and doesn’t want to make the multi-million-dollar investment into a synthetic surface. Track officials asked for a two-year exemption from the CHRB’s new rule, figuring they could get required approvals to bulldoze the track in that time frame.
Racing has enough problems without a grandstanding politician using his position to wage a personal war with a state regulator. Yee has publicly called on Shapiro to step down from the board. The senator, along with a few horse racing industry participants who may be egging Yee on, would be better off looking for solutions to some of the industry’s problems. That’s what Shapiro has tried to do as CHRB chairman.
ACCOUNT WAGERING CONFUSION
Churchill Downs took a calculated risk when it decided to end its exclusive contract with TVG and play hardball with account wagering companies that have licensing agreements with the racing network. Without TVG and Youbet.com, the two leading account wagering companies, wagering declined on this year’s Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I).
Churchill Downs was slow out of the gate with twinspires.com, its new account wagering service. The service wasn’t ready to go as planned for opening day of the Churchill spring meeting, and wasn’t sufficiently prepared for the number of customers who tried to sign up before the Derby.
While a decline in Derby wagering can certainly be viewed as a negative, the bigger losers are the racing fans who have been forced to sign up for multiple accounts to play all the tracks they want to. It’s a mess.
SLOTS IN INDIANA
Add Indiana to the “have” states—as in “have slots.”
Gov. Mitch Daniels signed a bill into law that will bring 2,000 slot machines to each of the state’s two racetracks, Hoosier Park and Indiana Downs. Indiana already was awash with riverboats, drawing gamblers from Illinois, Kentucky, and Ohio, but slots will make Indiana’s tracks much more competitive in the region.
Kentucky, Illinois, and Ohio remain “have not” states and are surrounded by tracks whose revenue is boosted by slots. Efforts to level the playing field for tracks in those three states have not been successful.
In Kentucky, former Lt. Gov. Steve Beshear is the only candidate running for governor who is pushing for expanded gambling. Beshear, a Democrat, has received the personal endorsement of former Democratic Gov. Brereton C. Jones, chairman of the Kentucky Equine Education Project. KEEP hasn’t taken a position on the governor’s race. The Republican and Democratic primaries will be held May 22.
If Kentucky wants to protect its signature industry, sooner or later it is going to have to address the issue of slots at racetracks.