Del Mar council considers proposal for bingo at Surfside Race Place
Del Mar’s Surfside Race Place could begin hosting bingo as early as August, but most likely in September. That is, if the Del Mar City Council ultimately approves an ordinance allowing it to do so.
“Where we can help each other I think we should try to help each other,” Mayor Richard Earnest said during Monday night’s meeting. “There are those in town who think that’s absolutely wrong — I’m not one of those.”
With revenues from satellite wagering down statewide, the 22nd District Agricultural Association is looking for ways to increase attendance at its brick-and- mortar facility. With the skyrocketing popularity of Internet and phone wagering, Surfside Race Place took in $51 million in pari-mutuel bets last year, $21 million less than it did 10 years earlier.
That translates to an average attendance of roughly 600 per day, down from 3,000 at the height of its prime.
“I see this as a wonderful, wonderful opportunity for the community, for the charities and for the fairgrounds,” said 22nd DAA Chief Executive Officer Tim Fennell.
California law allows bingo to be operated by 501(c)3 organizations. As such, the 22nd DAA created a “Friends of the Del Mar Fairgrounds” nonprofit that would run the games. Del Mar is one of the few cities in San Diego County that does not already have a bingo ordinance.
Fennell said proceeds from bingo would be used for the Don Diego scholarship fund, capital improvements to the fairgrounds, and possibly donations to other local nonprofits. He said the facility would be made available for other organizations to host bingo, including the financially strained San Dieguito River Park Joint Powers Authority.
Dick Bobertz, executive director of the JPA, addressed the council in support of the measure. Earnest, who is the chair of the JPA board, said any legal measure to help mitigate the $360,000 JPA funding cut that came from the city of San Diego would be worth consideration.
Councilwoman Crystal Crawford expressed concerns that none of the current board members of the “Friends of the Del Mar Fairgrounds” are Del Mar residents.
“I’m curious about what’s in it for us,” she said.
The council members wanted assurances that allowing bingo at Surfside Race Place would be revenue neutral to the city. They had learned earlier in the meeting that the city faced another $57,000 reduction in the general fund, an increase of $47,000 in expenditures, and that the contingency reserve has fallen below 10 percent, which is against policy. There were also concerns of increased traffic around the fairgrounds.
Council members asked the staff to research ways to ensure the city would be reimbursed for the public and safety services it provides during bingo, as entitled by state law. Del Mar could revoke the license if it turns out to be too costly.
City Attorney Leslie Devaney estimated that the earliest the staff could complete a first draft of the ordinance would be July, with the process for adoption carrying into at least late August or September, at which point Del Mar could issue bingo permits.
Councilman Carl Hilliard said he would support bingo at the fairgrounds and ultimately citywide.
“I don’t see any reason to say no,” he said.
The fairgrounds would plan to host 11 sessions of bingo each week, with 20 to 25 games per session according to a city staff report. Each game would pay $250, and Fennell said he anticipates free admission for bingo players. The 22nd DAA estimates it would generate $200,000 per year, at $4,000 per session.
Del Mar could gain sales-tax revenue from the extra concessions sold. Last year the city received roughly $612,300 from the fairgrounds, $173,300 of which came from Surfside Race Place concessions sales tax and a small percentage of its pari-mutuel handle.
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