<strong>PHOTO FINISH:</strong> After years of losing money, Earl Warren Showgrounds decided to shut down its satellite wagering facility, effective September 28. Showgrounds CEO Scott Grieve blamed competition from the Internet, Santa Maria and Ventura betting houses, and the Chumash Casino.
Paul Wellman

Satellite wagering is entering the home stretch at Earl Warren Showgrounds, as the state property’s board of directors voted last month to end the practice after the televised horse-race gambling facility known as Earl’s Place failed to turn a profit in recent years.

“We are self-funded, and satellite wagering is spending more money than it’s bringing in,” said the showgrounds CEO Scott Grieve. “It’s been headed that way for a number of years. We tried everything, but we came to a point where we felt we can’t subsidize horse racing anymore.”

Grieve said that the August 20 vote was a unanimous 7-0 (with two of the nine boardmembers not in attendance), but that it would be addressed once again at the Thursday, September 17 meeting. He doesn’t expect anything to change, though, which means that the last day for gambling would be Monday, September 28.

When the practice originally started about 20 years ago, it was a big moneymaker for the showgrounds, which were founded in the 1950s as the only fairgrounds in California specifically designed for horse and flower shows and remain part of the state’s 19th District Agricultural Association. That success even carried in the 21st century, as Grieve remembers it still turning a profit when he came on board seven years ago. “It was quite profitable,” said Grieve. “It actually drove some other things here.”

But then came the success of satellite wagering facilities in Santa Maria and Ventura, as well as the opening of the full-fledged Chumash Casino in Santa Ynez about five years ago. “You can look at our numbers from that time and see them sliding down,” said Grieve, who also gives a lot of credit to Internet gambling for the demise. Though he hasn’t fielded too many complaints yet, Grieve did take one call from a man who admitted that he’d been betting on the popular TVG.com site rather than coming to Earl’s Place.

The major costs of a satellite wagering facility are labor and utilities, explained Grieve, and the cuts will result in the loss of two permanent positions as well as some temporary ones. But Grieve said a couple folks are retiring and others are being moved to different showground departments, so, he explained, “I don’t think people are going to get hurt too bad.”

Grieve also made it clear that this wasn’t a rash, spur-of-the-moment decision by the board, but that they had been watching this situation carefully for a couple years. They made numerous cutbacks, but nothing was working. “It’s just one of those situations when you can’t save your way to prosperity,” said Grieve. “No matter how you save your money, you’re not going to be well-off.”

As to the future of the buildings, Grieve said that people are already inquiring about using the facility as a restaurant or government facility.


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