03/12/2004 1:00AM

Uphill fight for slots at Cal tracks

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ARCADIA, Calif. - The introduction of slot machines to California racetracks could lead to an annual increase of $310 million in Thoroughbred purses, according to a report presented Friday at Santa Anita by Rick Baedeker, president of Hollywood Park. But the slots proposal faces several daunting hurdles.

The report was presented to a small group of racing officials who are seeking slot machines for racetracks through the Gaming Revenue Act of 2004. The measure could appear on the November ballot, if a petition supporting the measure gains enough signatures in coming weeks.

If voters approve the measure, Native American tribes that operate slot machines would be required to increase their payments from slot winnings from the current nominal levels to 25 percent, which would go to the state's general fund. The tribes would also have to agree to several other conditions, including increased oversight from a gaming control board, compliance with environmental laws, and an annual audit.

The tribes would have 90 days to agree to the terms. Failure to comply would allow five racetracks and 11 card clubs throughout the state to install 30,000 slot machines.

The racetracks would be Bay Meadows, Golden Gate Fields, Hollywood Park, Los Alamitos, and Santa Anita. Del Mar, Fairplex Park, and other county fair tracks would not be allowed to install slots but would share in the revenue.

Horsemen would receive 18.5 percent of slot machine profits for purses. Tracks would receive 22 percent.

"Purses in California are going to quadruple in this scenario," Baedeker said.

The measure is being financed by Magna Entertainment, owner of Bay Meadows, Golden Gate Fields, and Santa Anita; Churchill Downs, which owns Hollywood Park; and Ed Allred, who owns Los Alamitos.

The measure faces other obstacles. Several lawsuits challenging the measure are expected, some as early as this month.

The Agua Caliente tribe of Native Americans has a competing measure that could appear on the ballot. It would allow the expansion of gaming on tribal lands. If both measures pass, the one with the most votes would prevail, according to officials supporting the racetrack measure.