Beginning this weekend, horse racing fans can place bets and watch televised races at the Commerce Casino, the first new off-track betting site approved under a statewide initiative to boost the struggling horse racing industry.
Gamblers will be able to bet at electronic kiosks and follow races from across the country on a bank of 26 television screens. It will be the first of 15 new wagering OTBs permitted by legislation approved in Los Angeles, Kern, San Bernardino, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.
State and gaming officials are hoping the casino will be the first of 45 new electronic "mini-satellite" venus allowed in sports bars, card clubs, casinos and other social gathering spots. The new sites, are in addition to the 34 betting facilities already operated by racetracks, tribal casinos and fairgrounds.
So far, only two others - a tavern and a restaurant in San Francisco - have applied with the California Horse Racing Board to operate one of the newly permitted electronic facilities. Gaming officials said the Commerce Casino site would be a test model to gauge the success of the initiative during troubled economic times.
In fiscal year 2007-08, horse races in California were responsible for $4.4 billion in wagers, according to the racing board. Attendance at Southern California racetracks has remained steady, but betting - the industry's main source of income - has dropped off by about 10 percent in the last year, according to racetrack officials.
Under the new law, card clubs, casinos, sports bars and other businesses can file an application with the California Horse Racing Board for one of the 45 new sites statewide - 15 in each of three racing zones throughout the state. The new off-track betting sites cannot operate within 20 miles of an existing satellite wagering facility without the consent of the operators of the existing site.
Racetracks such as Hollywood Park, Del Mar Thoroughbred Club and Santa Anita Park will benefit financially in the long run by collecting a share of every bet placed at the off-track sites on races at those parks, according to state gaming officials.
Ron Charles, Santa Anita Park president, praised the expansion, saying the added convenience of new off-track betting sites will draw new enthusiasts, such as card players and sports fans at casinos and sports bars, to horse racing. "The advantage is it's more convenient and it allows existing fans to have better, cleaner and nicer facilities to go to," Charles said.
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