Jury is out on home account betting in California

August 28, 2001 4:21 AM
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On Jan. 1, 2002, horse racing in California will set sail upon uncharted waters.

Home account wagering will become law on that date, and bets will be able to be placed via telephone from the privacy and presumably the comfort of one’s residence, with horse racing in the Golden State hopefully benefiting financially and gaining greater exposure, and, ultimately, a bigger live gate.

But naysayers fear the legislation will cause a decrease in on-track attendance, which already suffers from a stagnant if not shrinking fan base.

This venture has a long road to travel before all its i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed. Only time will tell whether the passage of SB471 is a boon or a bust.

“I don’t know how much of an impact it’s going to make, to be honest with you,” said Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel, fresh from a blockbuster weekend on Aug. 18-19 during which he won three graded stakes races and placed second in another. “I don’t think it will effect the on-track crowd that much, because bettors need money in their accounts, and some may not have the resources. The good thing is, we’ll get races on TV. That will gain exposure, but I don’t know how much money people will keep in their accounts to bet on the horses. It’s not like home account wagering back east where you can call and give your credit card number and five minutes later you’ve got credit.”

Craig Fravel, executive vice president of Del Mar, has been a major proponent of home account wagering for the past two years.

“When I walk around the grandstand now, people tell me it’s great that home account betting is becoming a reality,” he said. “They’re really looking forward to it. Yes, there’s concern that people won’t come to the track as much, but they’ll more than make up for it in the convenience factor. Many times a guy won’t go to the track and bet, not because he doesn’t want to bet, but because he doesn’t want to drive across town. I’m not a gambler by any stretch, but I would have an account, and if there was a race or a horse I was interested in, I would bet it from home. I get into the (Del Mar) satellite for free, but normally, I’m not going to leave my house on a Saturday and drive there to make a bet.”

John Van de Kamp, president of the Thoroughbred Owners of California, has stated it could take “two to three years before we know the advantages and/or disadvantages of account wagering. While it has some upside potential for purses down the line, at the outset I look at this as a defensive mechanism to ward off offshore and out-of-state poachers so the California industry can retain for purses and commissions what is rightfully ours.”

The legislation signed by California Gov. Gray Davis also calls for the unionization of backstretch personnel, but Frankel, for one, thinks there will be peace in the Middle East before hot walkers and grooms organize.

“We’re not going to get unionized,” Frankel said. “They (employees) have to vote on it and I don’t think it will pass. I think most of the employees are satisfied with the status quo.”

Added Fravel: “There’s language in the (unionization) bill that’s just kind of procedural, so it’s not really something that favors one side over the other. The majority of a barn must vote in favor of unionization for it to happen, and that’s no different than federal and state labor laws that pertain to other industries.”

THE HOMESTRETCH: Frankel knows he has the best dirt 3-year-old filly in the country in Flute, “but on grass, we have to prove a little more,” he said, speaking of impressive allowance winner Tates Creek, who is being pointed for the Garden City Breeders’ Cup Handicap at 11/8 miles on turf at Belmont on Sept. 9. On one weekend, Frankel won the Pacific Classic with Skimming, the Alabama with Flute and the Saratoga Breeders’ Cup Handicap with Aptitude, while finishing second in the Beverly D with The Seven Seas. Frankel said Flute might run next in the Grade I Beldame at Belmont on Oct. 6 before the Breeders’ Cup

Distaff on Oct. 27, while Aptitude is ticketed for the Jockey Club Gold Cup on Oct. 6 and Skimming the Goodwood at Santa Anita on Oct. 7 . . . Fravel on Del Mar’s meet, which ends its 43-day session on Sept. 5: “Things are good. Our attendance is up about 4½ percent on-track and about even off-track. We’re off a little bit in on-track handle, but overall we’re up about two percent.” On the possibility of Del Mar ever hosting the Breeders’ Cup: “We still have a lot of things we’d need to do, including widening of the turf course. A priority right now is a master plan to get our barn area in better condition.” . . . Simon Bray was still in “shock” several days after abruptly and unexpectedly losing nine horses from the Allen Paulson Living Trust, including Grade I winners Astra and Startac. “I had no inkling (it was going to happen),” the 31-year-old London native said. “I still have 25 other horses, but I had just won a Grade I race (the Secretariat with Startac). In three minutes, they came and took their nine horses from my barn and it was all over.” Reportedly, there is a major family conflict between the Living Trust’s top gun, Michael Paulson, son of the late Allen, and Madeleine Paulson, Allen’s former wife . . . Famous last words: D. Wayne Lukas, in The Thoroughbred Times, a week before Point Given won the Travers: “There’s no way he’s running. He’s got a big, raw heel. Baffert is looking for publicity. He wants to be in every race even if he’s not running.” . . . Look for the Neil Drysdale-trained Kalypso Katy to run in the Flower Bowl at Belmont on Sept. 9, and the Drysdale duo of Touch of the Blues and Irish Prize to go in the Atto Mile at Woodbine the same day.