04/22/2007 11:00PM

Calif. tracks call purse bill a "good start"


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Legislation to redirect some profits from Native American casinos in California to horse racing purses is a step in the right direction but falls short of allowing the state's tracks to compete with those that have slot machines, track executives said over the weekend.

The bill is sponsored by state Sen. Dean Florez of Shafter, and was scheduled to be introduced Tuesday.

"I do not think it is of sufficient magnitude for racing to bring us in line with the rest of the country," Hollywood Park president Jack Liebau said.

Santa Anita president Ron Charles described the bill as "a good start."

In addition to a payment from Native American tribes, the bill would allow tracks to retain their license fees - estimated at $40 million annually - and redirect the money to purses, breeders' awards, marketing programs, and the funding of a health and welfare program for jockeys.

"It appears that the license fees would be reduced to zero and that money would go to purses, which is great," Liebau said. "At this point in time, I'm pleased that someone is concerned about racing and taking some positive action to help us. I was hoping for more."

Racetracks sought slot machines through a 2004 referendum that was roundly defeated by state voters. California racing officials have said repeatedly that they need additional sources of revenue for purses to compete with slot-fueled purses in other states.

Florez, in a statement Friday, said: "The Governor and the tribes have both said they don't want racing to become a thing of the past in California. Here is their chance to put their money where their mouth is."

Legislation allowing five Native American tribes in California to install 32,500 slot machines - up from the current 10,000 - passed the Senate last week and is being debated by the Assembly. The bill has the support of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Charles said track officials were to meet with representatives of Native American tribes Monday to discuss redirecting some revenue toward horse racing.

Another possible avenue for racetracks would be to again seek Instant Racing games, which are similar to slot machines but are parimutuel. Instant Racing has been in place for several years at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas and generated more than $1.1 million in purses for that track's 2006 meeting. Legislation allowing nearly 13,000 such machines was introduced last year, but failed to get out of legislative committees.

Charles also said racetracks are trying to get a bill introduced that would allow horse racing wagering in sports bars.