Even California horse racetracks are skeptical that voters will approve of California sports betting and pass Prop 26 and Prop 27. But that hasn’t stopped them from at least planning ahead.
Prop 26 would allow for in-person sports betting at tribal casinos and California’s four licensed horse racetracks.
The state’s four racetracks covered in Prop 26 — Del Mar Racetrack, Golden Gate Fields, Santa Anita Park, and Los Alamitos Race Course — have set in motion their plans for a series of renovations to help meet a potential skyrocket in demand and action at their track, according to industry sources and the tracks themselves.
While most of the venues have kept their plans tight to their chests, California Casinos spoke with a pair of insiders and a few the of horse racetrack operators themselves to get the scoop.
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Del Mar Racetrack
Located just 20 miles north of San Diego, Del Mar Racetrack has been thriving since 1936, when founding member Bing Crosby helped established what would become one of California’s most historic and successful horse racing tracks.
It hosted the famous Seabiscuit vs. Ligaroti match, in which Seabiscuit earned international fame, shortly after the track opened. Del Mar has also welcomed crowds up to 50,000 people and offers among the highest daily purses of any track in the US. Its nine average horses-per-race tally also makes it one of the most loaded in the country.
Josh Rubinstein, Del Mar’s COO, has overseen the track for 26 straight years. He told California Casinos that Del Mar has eclipsed its pre-COVID record highs in attendance and daily purses in recent months as life has returned almost fully back to normal in 2022.
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Del Mar boasts record average daily purses near $810,000, Rubinstein said, and that figure would skyrocket if Prop 26 passed.
“Having a world-class sportsbook here to integrate with Del Mar’s horse racing product here would be monumental for us,” Rubinstein said. “I believe we would shatter our current records immediately upon Prop 26 being implemented.”
Del Mar held races six days a week as recently as 2008, but cut down to five days shortly after and four days in the wake of the pandemic. If Prop 26 passed, Rubinstein believes Del Mar would have enough interest from horse owners and bettors alike to run races 5-6 days each week again while still maintaining a large average horse-per-race field.
Prop 27, Rubinstein said, does little to benefit Del Mar or the horse racing industry as a whole. In the unlikely event that California voters do pass it, though, he’s prepared to work with the DraftKings, FanDuels, and BetMGMs of the world to keep business going strong.
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Santa Anita Park
Located in Arcadia, just a few miles east of Los Angeles, Santa Anita opened on Christmas Day in 1934 and has since hosted races with crowds of over 85,000 on hand. It served as the competition venue for the equestrian events during the 1984 Summer Olympics and is rumored to be a candidate to do so again when Los Angeles hosts the 2028 Summer Games.
Some of horse racing’s most famous horses have called Santa Anita Park home, including Seabiscuit, John Henry, Citation, Spectacular Bid, and Zenyatta. According to general manager Nate Newby, the track only runs races three days a week, and only averaged 7.3 horses per race this season.
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If Prop 26 passes, Newby told California Casinos that Santa Anita could easily run 4-5 days a week, “maybe more,” with as many as eight horses per race.
“We took a big hit during COVID and most of this season was just bouncing back and trying to get to where we were before,” he said. “Prop 26 isn’t looking very likely, but it’d certainly open the door for us to have some of our biggest business ever. It’d be a real shot in the arm to our operations and our business here.”
Newby, similar to Del Mar’s Rubinstein, said Prop 27 would not be particularly beneficial to Santa Anita’s mission to bring more people to the track for in-person wagers. He declined further comment.
Golden Gate Fields
The only racetrack open year-round in Northern California, Golden Gate Fields debuted in 1941. It’s significantly smaller than Del Mar and Santa Anita, and focuses on hosting lower-end races to attract trainers preparing for larger events and higher-purse races in Southern California.
The action at Golden Gate has been particularly small since COVID. The track holds racing just three days each week and drew unusually small crowds in 2022. But David Duggan, Golden Gate’s vice president and general manager, believes Prop 26 would provide “a new business model that’s most adept to today’s bettors.”
“Many people bet on more than just one sport,” Duggan said. “For tracks like Golden Gate Fields to have all the action going on right there, (it) would help bring in a ton of new people that maybe haven’t bet on horse racing before just because they hadn’t really been introduced to it.
“In the same way, we’d see a lot of people who place wagers on horse racing have the opportunity to bet on other sports.”
In the unlikely scenario that Prop 26 passes, Golden Gate Fields would become the Bay Area’s only legal venue for sports betting, joining the Graton Resort & Casino some 50 miles northwest.
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Duggan said Golden Gate’s ownership group, Stronach, would aim to expand the facility to host a likely influx of patrons. He noted getting local approval to grow its waterfront location would be challenging and that the venue isn’t planning on “overdoing it.”
“It wouldn’t be a huge physical expansion,” Duggan said, “but we’d have to do something to make room for everyone.”
Los Alamitos Race Course
Located just south of Los Angeles, in Cypress, Los Alamitos kicked off its storied history with 11 consecutive days of horse racing back in 1951. The track was home of beloved stallion Go Man Go. And it has held four quarter horse stakes races with purses over $1 million, more than any other track in the US.
Los Alamitos, like the three other tracks listed in Prop 26, is set for a surge in business if the initiative passes. Nick Alexander, board member and former chairman of the Thoroughbred Owners of California advocacy group, said Prop 26 would help maximize purses at Los Alamitos while ensuring its long-term stability and growth.
“Bigger purses and a secure future encourage owners to buy and breed better horses,” Alexander said. “It’s a win-win across the board.”
Representatives from Los Alamitos did not respond to repeated request for comment from California Casinos.