02/06/2008 1:00AM

California voters approve more casino slots


Voters in California on Tuesday approved a ballot measure that will allow four Native American tribes to add thousands of slot machines to their casinos. The measure was opposed by some state racetracks that fear the expansion will further erode their market share of gambling dollars.

The measure passed with 55 percent of voters approving. It allows the four tribes to add a total of 17,000 slot machines to their casinos under a compact negotiated by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the state legislature. Schwarzenegger has said that the additional machines will raise $500 million annually for the state budget.

The compact did not initially need to be passed by voters, but groups in opposition to the agreement staged a petition drive to get the measure on the ballot. The groups, which included Bay Meadows Race Course, Hollywood Park, and competing Native American tribes, raised $28 million to run ads in opposition, but the tribes in the compact countered with a $100 million campaign in support.

Bay Meadows is likely to close at the end of this year. The track's owners have been attempting to cut side deals with the state that would allow the track to share in the revenue from the Native American casinos, but the effort has been unsuccessful.

Jack Liebau, the president of Bay Meadows, said on Wednesday that if the measure had been defeated, it would have had a "slight" impact on the track's plans to close, but he said it was almost certain that 2008 would be the track's last year.

"If the vote had gone the other way and we could see a light at the end of the tunnel, then our plans might have changed," Liebau said. "But that's not the case."