Satellite horse race wagering may move off-track early 

Satellite horse race wagering is headed to the county Event Center a year earlier than expected, after Bay Meadows Race Course announced last week it could shut down after the fall season.

The transition of satellite wagering from Bay Meadows to the Event Center has long been a part of the county’s plan. But last week’s surprise announcement that the racetrack could close operations as early as November left General Manager Chris Carpenter and the Event Center’s governing board scrambling to come up with a satellite wagering facility in just eight months.

"The one thing we do know is that we plan to be up and running by Jan. 1, 2008," Carpenter said Wednesday. Previously, the Event Center had expected to begin its satellite wagering operations on Jan. 1, 2009.

Bay Meadows announced Thursday that it could close at the end of the race season in November, after the California Horse Racing Board last week denied the track’s application for a rule waiver to keep horse races going for two years. Track operators had requested a waiver of a requirement to install a $10 million synthetic track — believed to be better for the horses’ safety — by Jan. 1, 2008.

With mixed-use housing redevelopment for the site looming in about two years, installing the track wasn’t considered financially viable, Bay Meadows President Jack Liebau said.

The racetrack is considering an appeal to the Horse Racing Board next month, which, if successful, could give the Event Center more breathing room, officials said.

The county stands to gain as much as $2 million a year from the estimated $90 million that satellite wagering brings in at Bay Meadows annually, according to Carpenter. The amount dwarfs the $550,000 a year the county makes from live horse racing, Carpenter said.

From a new facility envisioned as a "grand sports bar" with big screen televisions to a temporary building in a neighboring city, securing a facility in the coming months is now a top priority, Expo and Fair Association Board President Jack Olsen said.

One option on the table is partnering with a racetrack operator such as Magna Entertainment, which operates Golden Gate Fields in Berkeley, to build and operate a facility, Supervisor Jerry Hill said.

While some in the county question whether satellite wagering can be a successful stand-alone operation in San Mateo County, Liebau pointed out that satellite wagering at Bay Meadows beat out its closest competitor in Northern California for wagering revenue by 33 percent in 2006.

ecarpenter@examiner.com

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