09/15/2003 11:00PM

Failed comp bill likely to see life next year


An unsuccessful bill that would have generated nearly $10 million in funding for California horsemen's workers' compensation programs through an increase in the takeout will likely be reconsidered in January next year, racing officials said Tuesday.

The original bill was not addressed by the California Assembly before it recessed for the year on Friday, on orders from the Republican leadership. The bill, supported by the racing industry, had passed the Senate on Wednesday by a 31-4 vote.

John Van de Kamp, the executive director of the Thoroughbred Owners of California, said the bill will likely come up before the Assembly when it reconvenes in January of next year, and has a good chance of passing then.

"We're disappointed about what happened, but we're hopeful that it will be on the governor's desk by the end of January," Van de Kamp said.

Racing officials in California have blamed increasing medical costs for the loss of owners and trainers to other states. Insurance rates have skyrocketed since most private insurance companies stopped offering workers' compensation policies 18 months ago.

The bill would have increased the takeout on all exotic Thoroughbred wagers from 20.18 percent to 20.68 percent. Takeout rates in California are set by statute and are some of the lowest in the country.

The $10 million that would have been raised by the takeout increase would have lowered the average worker's compensation cost to $20 per $100 of payroll and $50 per jockey's mount, racing officials said. Currently, rates vary from $35 to $65 per $100 of payroll and $105 to $173 per jockey's mount.

Ed Halpern, the executive director of California Thoroughbred Trainers, said Tuesday that his organization plans to support the legislation again when it is reconsidered. He said the trainers' organization will also explore other options in the meantime.

"Whether other actions are necessary is under consideration," Halpern said. "I know a group of trainers are talking about what to do right now, and there may be something out of that."

Halpern said he had heard very few critical comments about the bill's plan to fund the workers' compensation program with an increase in the takeout. Because takeout is the true cost of making a wager, increases to takeout rates are usually fervently opposed by horseplayers.

"What we're talking about here is instead of an exacta paying $52, it will pay $51.50," Halpern said. "I don't think many people are going to be upset about that."