California Gov. Gray Davis.

California Gov. Gray Davis.

Associated Press/ HO, Los Pinos

Assembly Passes California Account Wagering Bill

The nation's most populous state is one step closer to offering account wagering. In the waning hours of the 2000 legislative session on Thursday night, the California Assembly voted 56-6 in favor of a compromise bill permitting what it calls "advance deposit wagering" for pari-mutuel racing but also requiring backstretch reforms that could result in labor unions being represented among stable workers. Assembly Bill 2760, sponsored by Democrat Herb Wesson of Los Angeles, passed the Senate one day earlier and on Thursday sailed through the Governmental Organization Committee before going to the full Assembly for a vote.

No one is certain whether the bill will be signed or vetoed by California's Democratic Gov. Gray Davis -- a pro-labor politician who has expressed sentiments against the further expansion of gambling. Those who worked on the legislation hope the combining of two previous bills -- AB1405, permitting advance deposit wagering, and the original AB2760, requiring reforms in labor and backstretch housing conditions -- will improve the chances of getting the governor's signature. However, Davis also could choose to neither sign nor veto the bill, which would then become law after 30 days. If the bill is not vetoed, advance deposit wagering could go into effect on Jan. 1, 2001.

The compromise bill was worked out on Tuesday among representatives of tracks, trainers, owners, breeders, and members of the legislature, according to Norm Towne, president of the California Association of Thoroughbred Racetracks. The compromise bill removed a "hot button" clause that would have required the California Thoroughbred Trainers organization to negotiate potential union contracts on behalf of all trainers in the state, something many trainers vehemently opposed.

The amended AB2760 provides for advance deposit wagering, with a portion of revenue from this wagering to be earmarked for the Kenneth L. Maddy Fund for equine health, audits of trainer payrolls, a compulsive gambling program, trainer administered pensions of backstretch personnel, and a welfare fund.

The bill also mandates the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) to establish rules and oversee efforts of labor unions to organize backstretch workers and negotiate collective bargaining contracts, if a majority of workers so choose. However, trainers may form separate bargaining units or have tiered negotiations based on size of operation or location. Under AB2760, the CHRB also will be responsible for establishing standards and enforcement policies for backstretch housing for people and horses. Language in the bill also requires trainers to provide assurance they are keeping accurate and true payroll standards, and trainers' records will be subject to audit by the state, at no cost to the trainer.

Full text of amended account wagering bill