07/18/2001 12:00AM

Davis approached on Cal. bill

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DEL MAR, Calif. - California racing officials are reaching out to Gov. Gray Davis to gauge his opinion on telephone betting legislation before a pending bill reaches his desk.

An Assembly bill allowing telephone betting, and also establishing a system to unionize backstretch workers, could reach a Senate vote in the near future. Before it reaches the Senate floor, racing officials want to make sure that Davis is comfortable with the bill's phone-betting language. Last year, Davis vetoed similar legislation, saying he did not want expansion of gambling in the state.

"It's a timing issue right now," said John Van de Kamp, the president of the Thoroughbred Owners of California. "There's a need to bring the governor into discussions at this point before it reaches his desk."

The bill may still undergo revisions to placate Davis. The possibility of a "cooling-off" period of 48 hours between the time of a deposit and a customer's first bet and a limit on the amount that can be bet have been mentioned. Racing officials are also hopeful they can present a case to Davis, informing him that other states and offshore bookmakers offer telephone betting that reduces the tax paid to the state of California.