09/03/2010 4:24PM

California bill could raise purses 20-25 percent


DEL MAR, Calif. – Legislation passed last Tuesday that raises the takeout on exotic wagers placed on California races will result in an overnight purse increase of 20 to 25 percent this winter, if signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, according to industry officials.

The legislation, approved by the state Assembly and Senate on Monday and Tuesday, is in the process of being sent to the governor’s office. A spokesman in the governor’s press office said on Thursday that the governor had not acted on the bill. He has until Sept. 30 to sign or veto the measure, and there are indications that will support the bill.

“I’d be hopeful for a signature,” the California Horse Racing Board’s chairman, Keith Brackpool, said on Friday.

In his speech introducing the bill last Tuesday, sponsoring senator Ron Calderon of Montebello said the legislation was developed “in close consultation” with the governor’s office.

Last November at Hollywood Park, while attending a then-retirement celebration for Zenyatta, Schwarzenegger said he intended to aid California horse racing with legislation in 2010. “We have to find a way to generate significant finances,” Schwarzenegger said at the time. “I want to do it before I leave office.”

Schwarzenegger’s term ends in early January.

The senate bill will raise the takeout on two-horse exotic wagers by 2 percent, from the current 20.68 percent, to 22.68 percent, and increase the takeout on bets requiring three or more horses by 3 percent, from 20.68 percent to 23.68 percent. Takeout rates for win, place, and show betting will remain unchanged, at 15.43 percent.

The bill specifically states that revenue from additional takeout be dedicated to overnight purses. The additional purse money is estimated at 20 to 25 percent above current levels, track officials said.

“It’s significant,” said Del Mar’s chief financial officer Mike Ernst.

How the money will be distributed will depend on discussions between the racetracks and the Thoroughbred Owners of California, which bargains on behalf of horsemen regarding purses.

Hollywood Park’s racing secretary, Martin Panza, said he would like the increase to be dedicated to lower-level claimers, or even to restructure the percentages paid to winners and also-rans.

“The lower-level races need some money to keep those people in business,” Panza said. “We’ll address allowance [races] to stay competitive with the rest of the country.”

Using the current Del Mar meeting as an example, a 20-percent increase in overnight purses would raise prize money offered for sprinting maiden $32,000 claimers from $22,000 to $26,400, for maiden special weight races around two turns from $52,000 to $62,400, and for a first condition optional claimer for sprinters from $54,000 to $64,800.

If signed, the legislation takes effect on Dec. 26. Since the Hollywood Park spring-summer meeting does not begin until late April, Panza said he will have a few months to understand better the financial ramifications before finalizing proposals for his meeting.

“After two months, we’ll have a good idea of what the current economic trends are and we’ll go from there,” he said. “

“We have a shot to increase purses a significant amount, and we want to do it the right way. Personally, I don’t think we should pay 60 percent to the winner, I think we should pay more to fourth or fifth and maybe sixth. We can spread it out a little more.”

Earlier this week, Southern California racing secretaries and representatives of Thoroughbred Owners of California met to discuss purses on the circuit.

“There are a lot of things on the table,” said Rick Hammerle, Santa Anita’s racing secretary. “We’ve never been in this situation before. If there a time to make a change, now is the time.”