06/24/2010 11:00PM

California prepares for betting in bars


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - The expansion of parimutuel wagering to sports bars and card clubs in California could begin at a bar in San Clemente in late summer, pending regulatory and civic approval, but a recent application for another betting outlet at a Northern California card club did not meet the approval of the California Horse Racing Board earlier this week.

At its monthly meeting on Tuesday, the racing board approved a license for a satellite wagering site at OC Tavern in San Clemente, but rejected a similar request from Artichoke Joe's card club in San Bruno because of its business structure.

The expansion of parimutuel wagering to sports bars and card clubs was approved by legislation in 2007. Known as mini-satellites, the outlets are a way to bring wagering to smaller venues in areas not currently served by simulcasting at racetracks or satellite locations on county fairgrounds.

But the proximity of mini-satellites to existing betting outlets at fairs has been a point of contention between fair officials and racing board members in recent months.

The 2007 legislation required that mini-satellites be located at least 20 miles from an existing satellite at a racetrack or fair unless a waiver is granted from the existing facility. A second bill that would have reduced that to 15 miles did not pass a legislative committee earlier this month, largely because of opposition from the California Authority of Racing Fairs and the San Mateo County Fair.

During Tuesday's meeting, members of the racing board and executives with the fair authority and San Mateo County Fair had a heated exchange about the defeated legislation and the distance required between mini-satellites and other betting outlets.

Fair authority executive Chris Korby said the minimum distance requirement protects existing satellites.

"We are in support of expansion of the satellite network," he told the board. "We felt this bill was flawed and could hurt our interest and hurt the satellite network, which is in fragile condition."

His opinion was strongly rebuked by racing board chairman Keith Brackpool, who criticized the fair authority for spending money to defeat the 15-mile distance legislation.

"The governor in California had made a public statement that he wanted to be supportive of a piece of legislation for horse racing," Brackpool said. "Everyone ran up to Sacramento and said, 'No, no no.' The only message the legislature heard was once again we had warring factions."

The board on Tuesday rejected a proposal from San Mateo County officials to open a mini-satellite at Artichoke Joe's, which is located eight miles from San Mateo County's own off-track betting location on the county fairgrounds. The San Mateo fair grounds are adjacent to the defunct Bay Meadows racecourse.

In the application for the mini-satellite, San Mateo County officials said it would operate the facility on behalf of the card club. The board rejected the application and Brackpool later criticized the business arrangement. "I don't believe it is the satellite operator's right to franchise those out," he said.

The Artichoke Joe's application is part of a broader effort between San Mateo County officials and Golden Gate Fields in nearby Albany to allow expansion of mini-satellites near San Francisco.

Golden Gate Fields general manager Robert Hartman told the racing board that a sports bar in Pleasant Hills, Calif., is likely to approach the racing board in July, seeking regulatory approval.

The OC Tavern still needs approval from the city council on July 6, having received approval from the city of San Clemente's planning commission earlier this month.

OC Tavern could begin taking wagers four to six weeks after city council approval, according to OC Tavern owner Michael Merrigan.