Fairgrounds hoping to host bingo
In an effort to combat dwindling attendance and increase revenue to its satellite wagering facility, the 22nd District Agricultural Board is asking the city of Del Mar to pass an ordinance allowing it to host bingo at Surfside Race Place.
Del Mar city staff report that bingo is typically one of the most successful fundraising tools and could potentially be a revenue stream for the city. If this passes, the fairgrounds would need to create a nonprofit organization to operate the games. It would then be able to donate up to 20 percent of its profits to local foundations or charities.
One beneficiary of this pointed out by fairgrounds CEO Tim Fennell could be the San Dieguito River Park Joint Powers Authority.
The district already contributes money to the JPA, but that amount depends on the success of satellite wagering. California state law requires the fairgrounds to divide one-third of 1 percent of the total off-track betting wagers between Del Mar, Solana Beach and the JPA. The two neighboring cities each receive 40 percent of this amount, and JPA the last 20 percent. Last year the JPA got $48,000, but in 1999 it received $62,000. That reflects a $21 million difference in total bets from 10 years ago.
According to the fairgrounds, Surfside Race Place keeps 2 percent of the total wagers for each race.
It is a telling statistic about the status of horse racing and satellite wagering in general. Average daily attendance is down to 639 per daytime race this year at Surfside Race Place. Fennell said back in its prime there used to be 3,000 people per day. The agricultural district predicts bingo would generate $4,000 per session and $200,000 annually.
“In the next five years it will stay open,” Fennell said of the Surfside Race Place, adding that he is unsure about its long-term fate if the numbers continue to decline.
Fennell’s assertion about helping the JPA comes during an intense political climate surrounding the fairgrounds proposed expansion’s draft Environmental Impact Report. Like many other local agencies, the JPA recently submitted a 25-page comment letter stating the draft EIR fails under the California Environmental Quality Act and should be substantially revised.
Still, Fennell said he would like to see some of the potential newfound charitable money go to helping the JPA make up for a projected financial loss of more than $250,000 after the San Diego City Council voted to eliminate funding of the San Dieguito River Park, representing about 64 percent of the park’s $900,000 annual operating budget.
JPA Executive Director Dick Bobertz said the politics of the expansion do not interfere with the everyday working relationship between the JPA and the 22nd DAA.
“Again that’s why as professionals we keep those things very separate,” he said.
Fennell said he hopes the Del Mar City Council will consider the proposal for bingo in the upcoming 30 to 60 days. He said the district may also pursue slot machines in the future.
Fairgrounds spokeswoman Linda Zweig said the increased revenue to Surfside Race Place would offer another opportunity for the 22nd Agricultural District to make a positive environmental impact.
“We wouldn’t be doing it for a publicity stunt, we’d be doing it because it would be a sincere contribution,” she said, adding the fairgrounds has won 18 awards for its environmentally friendly operations.
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