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Del Mar Fiargrounds reported financial growth last eyar despite a brewing controversy and long-term debt
The Del Mar Fairgrounds reported financial growth last year despite a brewing controversy and deepening long-term debt. Photo by Sherry Smith
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Fairgrounds reports financial growth amid bid-rigging controversy

DEL MAR – The 22nd District Agricultural Association presented a report during a Feb. 8 board meeting outlining the current financial standing of the Del Mar Fairgrounds, which reported economic growth despite a brewing controversy over midway contracts.

Fairgrounds CEO Carlene Moore led the presentation despite calls for disciplinary action to be taken against her amid recent accusations of bid-rigging. Moore presented a financial report for the fairgrounds, which showed the COVID-19 pandemic’s massive financial impact on the state-run venue.

In 2020, the state board was forced to cancel the annual San Diego County Fair, horseracing was held without spectators and the Del Mar Horse Park was discontinued. The fairgrounds, which is funded almost entirely by revenue from the events held there, saw a huge financial loss — more than $23 million in total assets, including cash and cash equivalents, according to the report. In terms of debt, the DAA is facing almost $65 million in long-term debt.

Since then, the situation has improved. In-person horse racing returned in 2021, as well as Homegrown Fun, a scaled-down version of the county fair. The Del Mar Racetrack also hosted the 2021 Breeders’ Cup, which brought in about 47,000 attendees over two racing days.

This resulted in a more than $28 million increase in the fairgrounds’ total assets compared to 2020.

“Everybody will recall the success of Homegrown Fun, which did even better than we had anticipated,” Moore said. “Food and beverage as a result of horse racing were much stronger than anticipated, and satellite wagering has been performing better than anticipated.”

The DAA also received about $20 million in state COVID-19 relief funds in 2021. Approximately $9.6 million of that funding was allocated for 2021, and $10.5 million was allocated for 2022.

“There’s a number of factors, both on an expense saving side as well as on a revenue generation side that are contributing to overall fiscal health for 2021,” Moore said.

The board also heard from the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club CEO Joe Harper and President Josh Rubinstein, who introduced a letter sent via email to California Democratic Party Chairman Rusty Hicks.

The letter urges Hicks to reconsider proposed legislation that would repeal the legalization of gambling on horse racing in California, emphasizing the industry’s benefits to the local economy, labor unions and the community,

“Horse racing at Del Mar is considered by many in the local business community as a regional jewel providing millions of dollars of economic benefit to San Diego businesses, including hotels, restaurants, airlines, retail stores and transportation companies,” the letter stated.

“Horses training and racing at Del Mar receive the best and most expensive care of any animals in the world. Making racing and training as safe as possible is our highest priority,” the letter continued.

The letter was signed by the DMTC, the Thoroughbred Owners of California and several labor unions, including Service Employees International Union; International Brotherhood of Teamsters; Laborers International Union of North America, Local 89; Unite Here, Local 30; California State Association of Electrical Workers.