11/30/2009 12:00AM

Schwarzenegger: Racing needs help


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said on Sunday that he is willing to provide financial aid to the state's ailing racing industry if an appropriate offer reaches his desk before he leaves office in January 2011.

Speaking after appearing in a winner's circle ceremony at Hollywood Park in honor of the undefeated champion mare Zenyatta, Schwarzenegger was not specific about what sort of ideas he would accept, but did say he was not supportive of slot machines.

"The horse racing business is struggling," he said. "We've have to find a way to generate significant finances.

"I want to do it before I leave office. We have tried endless amounts of different ideas and they haven't worked out. We're trying to find a solution, and we'll continue to try to find a solution.

"Someone will come forward with some [ideas]," said Schwarzenegger.

Regarding slot machines, Schwarzenegger said that California residents "have shown they despise urban gaming."

California's Native American casinos, which offer slot machines and some table games, are largely based outside major metropolitan areas. There are, however, numerous card clubs in urban areas.

Racetrack proponents in California have wanted to install slot machines at racetracks to compete with states such as Delaware, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, and New Mexico, which have seen purses rise from slot machine revenue. A 2004 referendum that would have allowed slot machines at California's racetracks was soundly defeated by voters.

Racing supporters may have a difficult time gaining legislative support in 2010. The state of California faces a budget shortfall of more than $22 billion, and legislation that would enhance revenue for the sport at the expense of revenue for the state government is unlikely to pass.

Southern California's racetracks have had a difficult year, with racing dates reduced at some meetings because of lower handle brought on by a poor economy. The unemployment rate in California is 12 percent, according to published reports.

Privately, some racing officials say they have been frustrated at trying to reach the governor with ideas to aid racing.

While many people involved in the sport are angered that the governor's office has not helped their quest to install slot machines, Schwarzenegger has signed legislation in recent years increasing the takeout on exotic wagers to offset workers' compensation costs, allowed an expansion of satellite wagering to card clubs and restaurants, and, earlier this year, redirected money to the breeder's association to boost purses for statebreds who win maiden special weight races.

Schwarzenegger was at Hollywood Park on Sunday in support of Jerry and Ann Moss, who own Zenyatta. Jerry Moss later said that he and Schwarzenegger have been acquainted for years through the Special Olympics.

The governor was at the racetrack for a little less than an hour, arriving just before the ceremony that honored the popular mare.

"Just the fact that he came out shows there are people in racing that are close to him," said Hollywood Park's president, Jack Liebau. "We were pleased that he came out."

When Schwarzenegger was invited into the winner's circle to speak, most of his comments were drowned out by boos from the crowd of more than 9,800.

After the ceremony, he praised Zenyatta's achievements, saying, "It's terrific to celebrate a great horse. It's not that easy to win a bunch of races and not easy to win the big races. It takes a really special performance.

"I'm not an expert on horse racing as I am for weightlifting. It's very rare for the girl to beat the boys. This is an example of how they can be better."