Revised California Bill Going Through Legislature

More than a year after California Gov. Gray Davis vetoed a telephone account wagering bill, the revised legislation is running its course again through the state legislature.

Major changes have been made to the revised bill, including amendments that affect trainers and backstretch help. Many horse racing officials had problems with the initial wording of the bill, and have been negotiating with labor leaders to make changes.

After five days of negotiations, both sides agreed that elections, not a card-check procedure, should be used if workers want to form a union. The new provision would require California Service Employees International to get signatures from 30% of backstretch workers and then hold a vote to decide if there is enough interest to create a union.

"A significant amount of people had trouble with the bill's original language," said Doug Burge, general manager and executive vice president of the California Thoroughbred Breeders Association. "We were in favor of a secret ballot election, which many unions have. We were glad that we came to a resolution."

Burge said a different labor bill has been placed on hold until the outcome of Assembly Bill 471 is determined.

John Van de Kamp, president of the Thoroughbred Owners of California, said the organization voted July 5 to accept the bill.
"I don't want to make any predictions," Van de Kamp said of the bill's future. "But the legislature has been very supportive, and played a major role in helping us work with labor."

The revised legislation would allow for account wagering by California bettors. Industry officials say telephone wagering would provide a boost to racing and attract more off-track revenue. But Davis vetoed a similar bill last year because he was opposed to an expansion of gambling in a state that has seen a proliferation of Indian casinos in recent years.

Horse racing officials believe the bill may have a better chance than its predecessor because of the changes. The bill was scheduled to be heard by the state Senate Appropriations Committee July 9.

If the bill is passed by the Senate and Assembly, it would need to have Davis' signature by July 20 to become law.

"Last year the bill did clear the Senate and Assembly without any problems," Burge said. "We're confident that we can get it to the governor's desk once again."