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A California initiative proposes a 10% tax on all sports betting revenue from racetracks.
A California initiative proposes a 10% tax on all sports betting revenue from racetracks. File photo
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Solana Beach seeks to reverse Fairgrounds’ sports betting decision

SOLANA BEACH — As the Del Mar Fairgrounds looks ahead to a possible future of increased revenue from onsite sports betting, the neighboring city of Solana Beach has filed a lawsuit to stop it before it can begin.

Back in September 2021, the 22nd District Agricultural Association, the board which manages the Fairgrounds, voted unanimously to make sports betting a permitted activity at its off-track wagering center, pending California voters’ approval of a new initiative allowing sports betting at private racetracks and tribal casinos in November 2022.

Thirty U.S. states, as well as the District of Columbia, have legalized sports betting in some form since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a federal ban on state-authorized sports betting in 2018. The California initiative proposes a 10% tax on all sports betting revenue from racetracks.

While the Fairgrounds see sports betting as an enticing revenue source –– particularly as factors including the devastating financial impacts of COVID-19 make the future of horse racing uncertain –– Solana Beach officials filed a suit on March 10 seeking to reverse the district’s September approval, arguing that it will bring adverse effects to the environment and local community including increased traffic, noise, and air pollution.

Specifically, the petition alleges that the 22nd DAA failed to conduct an environmental review before approving sports betting, therefore violating California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) guidelines. The Del Mar Thoroughbred Club is also named as a defendant, due to their proposal to develop and operate a “first-class sportsbook” at the Fairgrounds by early 2023 if the ballot measure is approved.

“The city is beneficially interested in the issuance of a peremptory writ of mandate by virtue of the fact that the city and its residents and visitors will be harmed by the adverse environmental consequences that will occur if the proposed project is allowed to proceed. The significant adverse environmental effects of the proposed project will cause substantial and irrevocable harm to the city’s and the surrounding area’s environmental interests,” the city’s petition states.

Both the city and the 22nd DAA declined to comment on the litigation. The 22nd DAA also declined to provide a comment regarding the current status of plans for the sportsbook development at this time.

This marks Solana Beach officials’ third lawsuit against the 22nd DAA in approximately the last decade and another example of the city’s frustration about potential local impacts from expanded activities and operations at the Fairgrounds.

In 2011, Solana Beach was joined by the City of Del Mar and the San Dieguito River Park in suing the 22nd DAA over the adequacy of environmental plans related to a facilities upgrade, which ended in a settlement.

The city also filed a 2017 suit opposing the construction of a nearly 2,000-seat concert venue at the Fairgrounds due to concerns about noise, traffic and air quality, resolved by a memorandum of understanding between the two parties.

The current case has been assigned to San Diego County Superior Court Judge John Meyer, with no upcoming hearings scheduled thus far, according to court records.