California to Hash Out Workers' Comp Proposal

by Jack Shinar

Representatives from the California Thoroughbred industry have scheduled an April 10 meeting at Santa Anita Park to discuss a proposal that would increase pari-mutuel takeout to help pay for spiraling workers' compensation insurance rates.

A rough draft of a proposed Assembly bill that would authorize a takeout hike was circulated, with little debate, among trainers, owners, and racing representatives at a meeting the week of March 27, according to John Van de Kamp, president of the Thoroughbred Owners of California.

In the meantime, the California Thoroughbred Trainers is in the process of collecting data on stable payroll and injury claims throughout the state in hopes of attracting the interest of potential insurers, which would make legislation unnecessary. Racetracks have retained a firm to evaluate the information for recommendations.

Van de Kamp said the potential bill is not designed to create a workers' compensation insurance program for racing in the state, but is "simply a mechanism to provide funding pending an agreement" between tracks and horsemen. He said that in preliminary discussions, the amount of takeout required to offset costs has ranged from a quarter to one-half of a percentage point, and could be applied to all handle or be limited to exotic wagers.

The TOC supports such action because horse owners are bearing the brunt of the increased costs, which have jumped dramatically in the past two years. Current rates are expected to bump even higher July 1, when workers' compensation insurance polices with the California State Fund expire for about two-thirds of the state's 600 Thoroughbred trainers.

The fund, whose rates are consistently higher than private insurers, is the only option left in the state for that type of insurance. Legion Insurance Co. stopped writing policies March 1.

Jack Liebau, director of California racing for Magna Entertainment, which owns Santa Anita, Golden Gate Fields, and Bay Meadows, briefed the California Horse Racing Board March 28 on the seriousness of the issue.

"We can all have our differences, but it is time for the horse racing family to come together on this issue," Leibau said.

Van de Kamp said racetracks have much at stake if expenses like workers' compensation insurance continue to grow.

"Trainers are facing increased pressure to leave the state," he said. "If we lose horses, then we will have a real problem."

Van de Kamp noted that the Bay Meadows meet opened April 3 with only 57 horses entered for an eight-race card.

In spite of Liebau's call for unity at the CHRB meeting, Ron Liccardo, president of the Pari-Mutuel Clerks Union 280, expressed opposition to takeout legislation over lack of labor representation and collective-bargaining rights.

"It's (labor) opposition that could kill it," Van de Kamp said.

And CHRB vice chairman Roger Licht said he would oppose any attempt to increase takeout.

"It's not the fans' duty to supplement workers' compensation insurance," he said.

California bettors enjoy one of the lowest takeout rates in the nation at 15.43% for win, place, and show wagers, and 20.18% for all other bets.