Updated on 06/27/2011 5:51PM

Raffetto named to lead a troubled TOC

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By Steve Andersen
INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Lou Raffetto, the noted East Coast racing executive, will join the Thoroughbred Owners of California as the organization's president on Friday, the group's officials said at an open forum at Hollywood Park on Saturday.

Raffetto, who has worked as the president of the Maryland Jockey Club and at Monmouth Park and Suffolk Downs, fills a position that has been vacant and will be his first involvement in California racing.

Saturday's 90-minute forum covered a variety of topics and occurred at a time when the owners' group's position as the state's official representative of horsemen in the state is being challenged by a group of owners and trainers currently gathering signatures for a proposed election on representation later this year.

The most contentious subject of discussion during the meeting was a 2-percent increase in takeout for exotic wagers that took effect at the start of the year and was supported by the Thoroughbred Owners of California.

Addressing the increase, which has greatly angered bettors' groups, Jack Owens, chairman of the owners' group, said the decision was "controversial" but that it may spur long-term investment in the sport. "We are starting to see, talking to breeders, the return of some mares to California, [and] less tendency to leave mares open," he said. "We are talking about a program that may take three to five years even if the economy comes back and if discretionary spending comes back."

Mike Pegram, a prominent owner and member of the organization's board, said the takeout will not be rescinded, despite pressure from bettors. He said Santa Anita offered purses that were 18 percent higher on a day-to-day basis at the 2010-11 winter-spring meeting compared with the preceding year.

When pressed on the issue by horseplayer Andy Asaro, Pegram said the takeout would not be lowered. "I'm not willing to take an 18 percent cut," Pegram said.
"This was about increasing purses and becoming competitive in California with other jurisdictions," Pegram said. "It was a collection of all horsemen that supported this bill. I know it's controversial. I understand."

Pegram cited national statistics saying that the blended takeout, including win, place, show, and all exotic bets, has left California ranked fourth behind Kentucky, New York, and New Jersey. California was second to Kentucky on that list before the new legislation was enacted, he said.

Pegram said the owner's group will not support the implementation of exchange wagering in 2012 unless issues regarding to "cannibalization, [prevention] of corruption and the takeout rate" are addressed.

There is concern from officials of the owners' group that exchange wagering, which allows customers to post odds and accept bets, will draw handle away from ontrack business, may not provide sufficient revenue for purses, and could lead to wrongdoing by racing participants.

Pegram said that until conversations are held pertaining to those issues, "We don't see a future for exchange wagering" in California. As the official representative of owners in the state, the Thoroughbred Owners of California must approve purse contracts involving exchange wagering.

Owens said the organization would support legislation to legalize Internet poker with the intent that California racing could secure an operating license that would increase revenue for racing. Owens said after the meeting that it is unclear whether such legislation would be debated in the California legislature this summer or in 2012.
During the forum, Owens said racing has a chance to avoid past errors in not deriving revenue from lottery or slot machines at Native American casinos in the state.

"This Internet poker is coming like a freight train," Owens told the forum. "There are issues whether it's this year or next year or what the governor's take is. It's a last chance for us to really do a game-changer and not get left out.

"We were left out of the lottery. We were left out of slot compacts, but it's history now. There is a possibility, an opportunity, to put back in the industry a lot of money."