Would Golden Gate Fields Have Been Saved By In-Person Sports Betting?

The California horse racing world was rocked by a press release sent out Sunday afternoon. The Stronach Group announced the upcoming closure of Golden Gate Fields, which will be coming this December.

That announcement breeds plenty of speculation, especially about the future of horse racing in the Golden State. It’s worth noting, though, that Golden Gate Fields may have benefited from a sports betting proposition voted down this past November.

That begs the question: Could Proposition 26 have saved Golden Gate Fields?

What happened with Prop 26?

Prop 26 would have legalized California sports betting at tribal casinos and racetracks. Had it passed, Golden Gate Fields could have built an on-site sportsbook.

Prop 26 was one of two sports betting measures on the ballot last November. Competing legislation, Prop 27, focused on the online sports betting market and was primarily backed by operators such as DraftKings and FanDuel.

This proved to be an expensive battle. More than $458 million was spent by campaigns for and against both measures, making it the most costly ballot question in the history of American politics.

Both measures failed at the ballot box. Two-thirds of voters rejected Prop 26, while more than 82 percent of voters said no to Prop 27.

Would Prop 26 have made a difference?

In all likelihood, probably not.

For one thing, even representatives from the Stronach Group, which supported Prop 26, said in-person sports betting wouldn’t make a gigantic impact. Last fall, Stronach Group executive Scott Daruty said:

“What we have seen from sports wagering in other markets, it’s not tremendously profitable. I’m not saying it is unprofitable, but it is not a huge windfall. It’s not a game changer as far as changing the economics of racing facilities.”

The last part of that quote may have provided a clue. Golden Gate Fields is located in Northern California’s Bay Area, just outside of Oakland. It sits on a very valuable piece of land near the water, one that may be attractive enough to entice a significant monetary offer.

In its press release, the Stronach Group indicated another major reason for the closure was to strengthen the racing product at Santa Anita Park. Santa Anita, the company’s flagship California property, has struggled with shorter fields and a smaller horse population.

“This consolidation will provide expanded content opportunities, wagering prospects and will serve to further elevate the overall customer experience at Santa Anita Park,” the release said, adding that a plan to relocate horses and employees is in the works.

What’s next for California horse racing?

An expected influx of horses will allow Santa Anita to card another day of racing each week this winter. The Stronach Group says racing will expand to four-day weeks in January by adding cards on Thursday that had not previously been on the schedule.

Meanwhile, Northern California horsepeople are scrambling to figure out their next steps. Larry Swartzlander, the Executive Director of the California Authority of Racing Fairs, says racing could continue at fair tracks most of the year.

“Five years ago [when it was rumored Golden Gate was going to be sold], we put together a 12-month calendar that will make Sacramento its 12-month base,” Swartzlander told the Los Angeles Times. “We probably wouldn’t race in January and February and just shut down after the holidays but will race the rest of the year.”

Swartzlander added plans are in the works to add a turf course to Sacramento’s racetrack. The only other track on the fair circuit with a turf course is Santa Rosa. Tracks in Pleasanton, Fresno and Ferndale could also see increased dates as part of this new schedule.

The California Horse Racing Board will begin debating date allocations for racing in August. Preliminary schedules for 2024 should come soon after that.

About the Author

Andrew Champagne

Andrew Champagne is a Content Manager for Catena Media, and an award-winning writer and handicapper. Originally from upstate New York, he now resides in Northern California.