Steve Gallagher
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Coinciding with opening day of horse-racing season at the Santa Anita track in L.A., Ocean’s Eleven Casino in Oceanside premiered coastal North County’s only off-track betting lounge on December 26.

Ocean's 11 Casino

121 Brooks Street, Oceanside

Where once was the card room’s restaurant, racing fans found a lounge with a bar and numerous large-screen TVs tuned into various tracks around the country. The biggest screen was reserved for the meet of the day — Santa Anita.

All races are beamed live by satellite. Two in-room tellers are at the tote machines. The money bet in Oceanside is contributed to the pari-mutuel pool at the track, which can fluctuate the horses’ odds and winning payouts.

While there is a nominal admission fee for access to the new lounge, races can be viewed free on other screens in the poker and blackjack card rooms, with betting at self-serve tote machines. As I watched a few races in the new facility, those taking the cheap way would miss the atmosphere of a group of race fans cheering and growling as the winning and losing horses run across the finish line.

Casino manager Stephen Gallagher spent the day in the lobby greeting casino regulars and welcoming new horse-racing gamblers.

Last week I sat down with the three race fans at the bar. Chris from Carlsbad said he plans to visit once a week (at least that’s what he’s telling his wife). His plan is to come with only the money he’s willing to lose — in his case, around $100 — and bet on any horse trained by the industry’s top guy, Bob Baffert.

Al, from Oceanside, came in to bet on the Santa Anita races. He said his system of betting wasn’t working. He expected to come in twice a week to the new facility.

Paul from Escondido said he likes to watch only the California races. He said he’ll bring up to $100 to bet and plans to attend once or twice a week. But he admits to drinking some of his $100 pot. His handicapping system? “Whatever Al’s not doing,” he said. Paul added that the staff is used to card players. “They’ve never dealt with us horse players before.”

A few years ago, the California Horse Racing Board, in an effort to reverse a decline in horse racing and increase the money wagered, began to approve off-track betting sites. (The state receives a percentage of all wagers.) Besides the three major Indian casinos in San Diego, only the OC Tavern in San Clemente had previously been approved locally for off-track betting. (Del Mar’s Race Place, being an “on-track” betting site, has been operating for years.)

On December 22, the 75-year old Hollywood Park in Inglewood ran its last race. The declining attendance made the land worth more to developers than racing enthusiasts. Its 2014 meet dates, regulated by the state racing board, will be divided up between Santa Anita and Del Mar. Santa Anita used its allocation to add two more months to its spring schedule. In addition to its regular summer meet, Del Mar will open its first fall meet, running from November 5–30.

All three players I met at in the Sports Lounge at Ocean’s Eleven said they will get excited when the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club opens its season in July because they can bet the local races without having to fight the crowds and traffic at Del Mar.

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