Horse gamblers may soon have a new hang in Salinas.
The Triple Crown OTB & Sports Bar – short for off-track betting – is poised to open in a former card room at the Bankers Casino on Monterey Street. Patrons will watch live satellite feeds of horse races from nine tracks on 25 flat-screen TVs, and place bets, within the bar and restaurant.
What they may not realize is the connection between Triple Crown and a more grandiose vision for local horse racing. Approval for the new OTB facility came with an assist from a managing partner of Monterey Downs, a proposed 550-acre equestrian development – including a horse racetrack – on the former Fort Ord.
Triple Crown is licensed as a “mini-satellite” operation of the Monterey County Fair, which has run a simulcast horse wagering facility at the Monterey Fairgrounds since 1987.
Horse wagering is heavily regulated at the state level. The Fair has been working for four years to line up approvals and permits for Triple Crown from agencies including the California Horse Racing Board, California Authority of Racing Fairs and various racing associations. Among them: the Thoroughbred Owners of California (TOC), which approved Triple Crown in March 2011.
Downs Developer Brian Boudreau served six years on the TOC board. He says he stepped down in summer 2011 to avoid any perceived conflict of interest as he pursued his own racetrack.
But he was on the board when it approved Triple Crown. “They’re really great to have around racetracks,” he says. “I thought it would be a plus.”
Monterey County Fair CEO Kelly Violini agrees Boudreau vouched for Triple Crown: “Brian was definitely an advocate for us.”
Boudreau says he has spoken with Violini about the potential for a public-private partnership. He says the state-run fair could potentially own the property the track sits on, using it for a variety of events throughout the year, then rent it to Monterey Downs for the nine-week racing season – a model he says is similar to that of the Del Mar racetrack in San Diego County.
“We are certainly open to it, and we’ve made that clear to them from the very beginning,” Boudreau says.
Violini says the fair’s off-track betting facilities and the live racetrack could possibly compete for business, but she sees opportunities for both to benefit: “We try to look at everything as a win-win situation.”
Downs Chief Operating Officer Beth Palmer says about 80 percent of a racetrack’s bets are placed offsite. If Downs is built, she says, it will get a cut of the bets made on its races, both on and offtrack. Triple Crown OTB will add to the “handle” – the total wagers made on Northern California races. Palmer says that while the Salinas OTB won’t offer any benefits specific to Monterey Downs, the two are mutually beneficial.
Bankers Casino Co-Owner Sal Jimenez doesn’t see Triple Crown and the Downs as potential competitors. He supports the racetrack proposal, saying, “Any transformation of any property that isn’t creating revenue would be great.”
On Jan. 22, the Salinas City Council introduced a number of revisions to city codes affecting Bankers Casino, including a new provision allowing the operation of a satellite wagering facility.
“It’s cleaning up our city code and our permit to make [OTB] consistent with state law,” Assistant City Attorney Chris Callihan says.
If the council adopts the ordinance at its Feb. 5 meeting, the law will become effective March 7. Callihan says Bankers will be in violation of its card-room permit if it opens the off-track betting bar as planned on Feb. 1.