The bill, AB 471, marks a victory for racetracks facing declines in revenues, as well as for labor groups seeking to unionize backstretch workers and ensure regulation of their housing and workplace conditions.
Gambling critics, however, assailed the Democratic governor for his about-face from last year, when he vetoed a similar measure he said would have expanded wagering too far.
In a two-page message released Monday, Davis said he reversed his position primarily because of a December 2000 federal law change explicitly permitting Internet gambling. Signing last year’s bill without that change “would have represented a significant expansion of gambling beyond federal law,” he stated.
But for the federal law to apply, a state must first affirm that horse race betting can occur via the Internet or telephone, said I. Nelson Rose, a Whittier Law School expert on gambling law.
“I don’t see how the change in federal law makes the policy decision any different,” Rose said.
Davis relied on a legal opinion offered by state Attorney Togel General Bill Lockyer. In the opinion, Lockyer said that “because AB 471 will not create a new form or expand an existing form of gambling, it is not an expansion of gambling.”
The bill allows “advanced deposit wagering,” a system enabling gamblers to set up an account with a state-authorized racing association and place bets through the phone or Internet. Proposed safeguards aim to prevent minors from accessing accounts, as some critics fear could occur.
The labor provisions, when paired with at-home gambling opportunities, have been backed by a broad coalition of racetrack owners, horse trainers and labor organizers.
California has more than 3,500 backstretch workers, who clean and care for horses at racetracks throughout the state. Many live in inadequate storage rooms adjacent to stables, a condition they accept because they say they earn too little to afford housing elsewhere.
By all indications, Davis’ reversal came within the last month. As recently as early July, Roger Salazar, the governor’s deputy press secretary, said that “while (Davis) hasn’t weighed in on this bill, …