Local Business

Wednesday, Nov 28 2012 06:39 PM

Fair looks at ending satellite wagering

BY JOHN COX Californian staff writer jcox@bakersfield.com

The Kern County Fair is considering closing its satellite wagering operation because of mounting financial losses.

The fair's executive leadership brought up the year-round, five-days-a-week horse race gambling operation at the fair board's last meeting, Nov. 19. A board member who was there said a decision on the program's fate could come as soon as the board's next meeting, Dec. 17.

"We don't know for sure ... whether we should keep it or not or do what," board Vice President Karen DeWalt said Wednesday, adding that there may be a final decision made at next month's board meeting.

Fair CEO Mike Olcott declined to provide numbers on the wagering operation's recent performance, even though the fair is a public agency whose board members are appointed by the governor. But he did say wagering is losing money and that its financial condition varies from month to month according to various factors.

"We don't know if it's going to make us money," he said.

"We're just discussing if it's a benefit or detriment."

Since the 1990s, the fair has offered satellite wagering at its Sports Pavilion on South P Street. It sells beer, wine and food while giving customers the opportunity to bet on thoroughbred, quarter horse, mixed breed and harness racing.

Olcott said the operation provides work for two full-time employees and about six temporary employees.

Board member Kay Meek said the organization has long wondered what to do about an operation that has suffered gradual declines in attendance.

"We've been looking at satellite wagering for years," she said. "The profit has slowly been diminishing over the years. As any good business people, you look at your various ways of bringing income in and usage and you just continue to analyze it. But definitely the economy has made a huge difference."

Meek also said that, to this point, there has been no discussion of shutting down the operation.

Board member Mark Salvaggio declined to discuss the fair's satellite wagering Wednesday, citing an email Olcott sent to board members the day after the last meeting. The email states that all correspondence with the news media needs to go through him "to make sure that we are sending a unified message that represents the best interest of the Kern County Fair."

A study published in 2010 in The Sport Journal, a publication of the United States Sports Academy, noted that horse racing has seen "dramatically lower attendance and an aging fan base."

It said horse racing, once the nation's most popular spectator sport, has struggled in the face of competition from Native American casinos and the popularity of Internet gambling.

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