TOC Looking at Racetrack Slots in California

Thoroughbred Owners of California president John Van de Kamp admitted California could lose its position as a major racing state in the future without additional revenue streams, including expanding gaming at California's racetracks.

The TOC is in the early stages of formulating a proposal for the state legislature that would allow other forms of gambling at the state's racetracks. Van de Kamp declined to say what the proposal might offer, saying it is a "work in progress," but acknowledged the pending slot machines in New York and the rising purses in other states could eventually push California down the racing pecking order.

"I think that's a possibility, but it depends on what happens elsewhere," Van de Kamp said Wednesday. "If it goes to $1 million a day [in purses] in New York and West Virginia--though I'm not sure it will--you are going to have that magnet and I'm concerned about that."

Expanded gaming legislation in California would surely face stiff competition from the powerful Indian casino lobbies in the state, which previously helped defeat horsemen-backed legislation that would have increased the number of simulcasting facilities in the state.

However, Van de Kamp feels a thoughtful proposal with widespread industry support could gain favor in the legislature.

"Given the situation in the state right now, this would be the type of program that could not only help the state in its budget crisis but help preserve an industry," Van de Kamp said. "Those are two arguments you got going for you."

California racing has been plagued in recent years with short fields and it is only ikely to get worse. Several stables have already abandoned the state or have been reduced significantly because of the escalating cost of workers' compensation insurance. Van de Kamp said new revenue streams are paramount to keep California racing healthy.

"We need to find any revenue source that we can to stay in there among the leaders," he said.