Calif. Slots Initiative Meeting Sparsely Attended

An informational meeting on a racing-backed slots initiative that could add as much as $300 million a year to purses in California drew only a handful of horsemen at Santa Anita Friday morning.

Proponents of the Gaming Revenue Act of 2004 are collecting signatures to qualify for the November general election.

Despite advance notice of the meeting and several reminders appearing in a daily racing publication, only about 30 people turned out to hear the initiative's details.

Those in attendance, including trainers Mark Glatt, David Hofmans and Mike Puhich, were updated on what the initiative means to racing interests in California.

Bob Pence, campaign director for the Californians for Public Safety and Education, said the initiative is a result of Indian tribes' monopoly of gaming, especially slot machines, and the fact they are not required to support the state with payments or taxes. Pence said that the initiative, which would allow the Indian tribes to keep their slot machines, is only positive for racing interests and the several city and state programs that would benefit if any of the tribes refuse to renegotiate their compacts.

"(The Indian tribes) maintain state exclusivity when it comes to slots," Pence said. "If any tribe fails to amend (its) current contract, it means 30,000 slot machines for the racetracks and card clubs."

Pence explained that the initiative is directly sponsored and funded by five racetracks – Santa Anita, Golden Gate Fields, Hollywood Park, Los Alamitos and Bay Meadows – as well as 11 card clubs in six counties. He said the majority of the money generated from slots at the racetracks and card clubs will go to community programs, such as education and care for abused children, and for sheriff, police and fire departments within participating cities and counties.

Tracks would only receive 18.5% of the slots proceeds, of which 17.75% will be allocated to purses and .75% percent to incentive awards, such as breeding programs. All purses throughout the state, including those at facilities not included in the initiative, will be supplemented equally and proportionately, regardless of who operates slots.

"The estimate is $1 billion in revenue annually with 30,000 machines," Pence said.

Under the initiative, Indian tribes would be required to pay 25% of their net winnings to the Gaming Revenue Trust Fund. They would also pay for an annual audit by independent accountants, comply with the California Political Reform and California Environmental Quality Acts, report winnings to the Division of Gambling Control, and agree to be subject to the jurisdiction of the Gambling Control Commission.

Hollywood Park president Rick Baedeker indicated the signature drive is on target, although he declined to say how many had been gathered so far. Sponsors hope to get 1 million signatures in order to reach the 590,000 valid ones necessary for the initiative to make the ballot.

Baedeker broke down the gaming numbers, however. "Based on revenue of $400 per machine per day, it could mean as much as $310 million annually for Thoroughbred purses," Baedeker said. "We're at $154 million annually now. That could mean that purses could quadruple once all the machines are deployed. For Quarter Horses, based on $400 in revenue per machine per day, it could mean $80 million annually and $6 million for night harness racing.

"Everything in the initiative is based on where the voters want the money to go," Baedeker said. "There is no black hole. The money will go to designated programs and not into the general fund."

The petitions are due to be submitted to the Secretary of State on May 1.