Updated on 09/15/2011 12:49PM

Phone-bet bill signed in California


DEL MAR, Calif. - Legislation permitting telephone betting in California has been signed by Gov. Gray Davis. The bill, which goes into effect on Jan. 1, also establishes a system to unionize backstretch workers.

Racing officials said on Monday they are optimistic that regulations will be in place to allow telephone betting to start by the new year.

The news that Davis had signed the bill was met with relief by track officials, who have fought for telephone betting as a way to compete with out-of-state and offshore betting services that attract California customers.

In a press release, Davis said he signed the bill because it called for backstretch housing standards and the right for collective bargaining among workers. He said he vetoed last year because federal law did not "expressly permit the use of a telephone or the Internet to place wagers on horse races" and concern about betting from minors.

Racing officials say telephone betting provides a new avenue of promotion through television stations dedicated to the sport. TVG, based in Santa Monica, has an agreement to televise races and act as a telephone betting hub for Del Mar, Hollywood Park, and Los Alamitos. The three California tracks owned by Magna Entertainment - Bay Meadows, Golden Gate Fields, and Santa Anita - were allied with The Racing Network, which recent ceased operations.

Santa Anita president Jack Liebau said on Monday that Magna has not completed arrangements for telecasts or telephone betting.

"We're still considering several alternatives," Liebau said. "You'll see some competition, and that will be good for California."

In recent weeks, horsemen have expressed concern that the convenience of telephone betting will keep customers at home and reduce their share of purses as less money is bet ontrack. On Aug. 6, an agreement in principle was reached between the Thoroughbred Owners of California, which negotiates purses in the state, and TVG for TVG to offset any potential purse losses caused by the creation of telephone betting.

In a statement, TOC president John Van de Kamp said, "I believe it will take two to three years before we know the advantages and/or disadvantages of account wagering."

On Monday, horse owner Marty Wygod, who actively sought the agreement on purse protection, called for negotiations to continue with TVG. Wygod said, "The horsemen have to take a strong position."

It could be well into 2002 before unions are formed among backstretch workers, if at all. The bill states that elections must be held in individual stables before a union is formed. If a majority of a stable's employees reject a union, then a union will not be formed in that stable regardless of the voting results in other stables.

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