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The San Diego Democratic Party voted to remove language from the state constitution regarding gambling on horse races. Courtesy photo
The San Diego Democratic Party voted to remove language from the state constitution regarding gambling on horse races. Courtesy photo
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San Diego Dems push to remove horse racing from state constitution

DEL MAR — Horse racing proceeds have long been a major contributor to the state’s 22nd District Agricultural Association, which oversees the Del Mar Fairgrounds.

But last month, the San Diego Democratic Party called for the removal of language from California’s constitution allowing the regulation of gambling on state-sponsored horse races, which could impact revenue streams generated from horse racing and on-track wagers.

In a 37-4 vote, the San Diego Democratic Central Committee agreed on a resolution to remove Article 4, Section 19(b): “The Legislature may provide for the regulation of horse races and horse race meetings and wagering on the results.”

Assemblywoman Lori Saldaña, a member of the San Diego Democrats, said during last month’s hearing the party is not calling for a ban on the practice of horse racing.

“We are simply removing it from the state constitution,” Saldaña said in an interview with 10News.

The 22nd District Agricultural Association, Del Mar Thoroughbred Club and San Diego Democratic Party all did not respond to requests for comment from The Coast News.

Recently, the 22nd DAA reported higher-than-expected revenues following this season’s return to the Del Mar Racetrack and a scaled-down version of the annual San Diego County Fair this past summer.

In 2019, the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club reported over $4 million in revenue from on-track parimutuel (pool) betting alone.

California law currently recognizes Indian casinos, card clubs, pari-mutuel horse wagering, charitable gaming and lottery. However, a constitutional amendment initiative is headed to the November 2022 ballot that would allow for mobile and retail sports gambling in the Golden State, including off-track betting, which is currently prohibited, according to Gaming Today.

For Saldaña and the Dems, there is a moral imperative to remove the language from the constitution.

“When we look at changes in attitudes to these kinds of animal sports, we don’t do dog fighting, we don’t do cockfighting, we don’t do bullfighting,” Saldaña said.

In recent years, there has been much attention paid to horse deaths at race tracks like Santa Anita Park, which has seen death rates as high as 3.01 per 1,000 starts in 2019, according to data from The Jockey Club, and even Del Mar, which has had relatively low death rates since 2018.

However, the financial impact of eliminating horse racing proceeds from the 22nd DAA, and thus the state’s bottom line is an issue Saldaña said will have to be taken up.

“If we are going to have a state horse racing commission and state fairgrounds like Del Mar that subsidize this horse racing, and wind up having a cash flow problem as a result, we need to address that from a financial and economic standpoint,” Saldaña told 10News.

The issue could be placed on the ballot this year but even if it passed, it would not necessarily mean the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club would have to immediately cease horse racing operations on the fairgrounds.

Saldaña said the club would be free to build their own facilities that are completely separate from the state and generate their own revenues while covering their own expenses.