Will machines save Cal. racetracks?

Jul 4, 2006 4:03 AM

"Live" racing isn’t cutting the mustard for California horse tracks so the operators are now turning to "Instant Racing" as a means of improving business.

Problem is some people consider "Instant Racing" machines to be just a version of slot machines that are prohibited, except in the state’s nearly five dozen Indian casinos. In fact, the Indians are attacking the proposal as just a means of breaking their monopoly on gaming devices.

A bill permitting the state’s seven racetracks to install these machines has been filed by a San Francisco Assemblyman. The Senate Governmental Organization Committee will conduct hearings on the bill this week.

Rick Baedeker, former general manager of Hollywood Park and now senior vice president for governmental affairs for that track and Bay Meadows in Northern California, claims the "Instant Racing" devices are not slot machines.

"It’s a racing game in a pretty package," says Baedeker. "Slot machines belong to the tribes, but pari-mutuel (wagering) is our area. We wish them all the luck in the world. They shouldn’t want to put us out of business."

But the brightly-lit devices look like slot machines to the Indians. The machines utilize thousands of previously run races that are activated when players put their money in. These machines originated in Arkansas where they have been described as highly successful in adding to the tracks’ revenues.

A spokesman for an alliance of six tribes said that slot machines depend on "random number generators" and that the racing machines do the same thing only by substituting rolling reels of old races.

"They are like slot machines in every other respect. They certainly look like slot machines. There is no skill involved in playing them," she added.

The racing industry believes that if a track were to install 500 machines that some $57 million per year could be generated as additional monies for purse prizes.

The idea has received the support of the Thoroughbred Owners of California.