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Off-Track Horse Race Betting Coming to Lake Forest?

City commissioners are wary of a proposal to open a gaming establishment open exclusively to adults.

A restaurant offering off-track betting on horse races might not be the right fit for Lake Forest, city commissioners recently said of plans to open a gambling establishment where Black Angus once operated.

Plans to open Sammy's Restaurant & Bar, a restaurant featuring horse race wagers, were received tepidly by the Planning Commission, which told the property owners the establishment's proposed adults-only rule seems out of place in Lake Forest.

Owners of the property at 23221 Lake Center Dr., visible from the 5 freeway, have applied for a permit to open the restaurant where customers could dine, drink and make off-track bets on horse races.

The building has been vacant since 2009, when the Black Angus Steakhouse closed its doors.

"Our intent is to duplicate as best we can the Vessels Club at Los Alamitos," said Brad McKenzie, a longtime Los Alamitos racing executive involved in the Sammy's proposal.

Bruce Lehman, speaking for the group applying to open the restaurant, said it bought the property 13 months ago.

Lehman said 28 major satellite wagering facilities currently operate at racetracks California.

There are only four "minisatellite" facilities permitted in the state, he said, though there are others in the pipeline. Sammy's would fall into that category.

Under state law, such facilities must be at least 10 miles apart. The nearest to Lake Forest is OC Tavern, approximately 19 miles south in San Clemente.

Lehman said horse racing draws an "older demographic" and a sophisticated crowd that is generally underserved in the entertainment industry.

Betting at Sammy's would bring an estimated $50,000 to $70,000 annually to city coffers as part of the revenue-sharing aspect of state law governing such off-track betting establishments, Lehman said. He estimated 40 jobs would be created.

According to plans submitted to the city, the building would be lifted out of its current state of disrepair with a remodel before opening. The proposal includes the additional of a patio, new entryways and a re-do of the parking lot.

The restaurant would serve American cuisine and establish a Western theme. Sammy's would be open from 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 2 a.m. on Saturdays and 9 a.m. to midnight Sundays.

Generally, betting would take place from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Lehman said. However, on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, wagering would take place later into the evening, he told commissioners.

At least one full-time security guard would be at the restaurant when wagering is taking place, according to plans submitted. That area of the restaurant would also have a secure money room with security cameras; cash would be removed daily by armored transport. 

Owners said they are aiming to develop the property into an "upscale" and "sophisticated" gaming establishment.

At its first September meeting, the city's Planning Commission put the proposal on hold until the property owners could present additional information about the interior design of the restaurant and reconsider making it adults only.

"It's something the community doesn't have, I don't think there's anything [in Lake Forest] like that," Commissioner David Carter said.

However, banning anyone younger than 21 years old could deter some customers, he said.

"I'm having difficulty with that... especially when we're a family-oriented community," Carter said.

Commissioner Jerry Zechmeister expressed concerns the parlor would end up being less of a benefit to Lake Forest residents and more of a boon to out-of-towners, who would flock to place bets.

Zechmeister said the proposal will only be appropriate for the area if the design proves "particularly upscale."

The Planning Commission will revisit the proposal at a future meeting.

MFriedrich September 22, 2012 at 04:54 AM
"I'm having difficulty with that... especially when we're a family-oriented community," http://www.problemgambling.ca/EN/GettingHelp/Pages/TheEffectsOfGambling.aspx Do LF city government officials have a personal vendetta against all that's good, unique and desirable about the lake forest community? I ask because they sure seem hell bent on entertaining any whacked out proposal that brings in the money.
Jim Gardner September 22, 2012 at 04:11 PM
"Follow the money". Let's see whether or not the people involved in promoting this enterprise start giving City Council members campaign contributions. That will be the tip off. I already reported that developers had given city council members thousands of dollars over the years, and now the developers have license to build 3,000 new homes + 10,000 new people, etc, and swamp an already overcrowded city with even more traffic. But this is only the tip of the iceberg. Hotels get built, sidewalks get renovated, and city events get scheduled and the decision making can be traced to the money that flows to city council members. Before this proposal gets any further I'd like to get assurances from all the city council members that they will not accept money from these promoters, and since a planning commission member and the wife of another planning commision member are candidates for election in November, I'd also like to get that same assurance from them.
Lancer September 22, 2012 at 04:59 PM
Maybe our council should go over to Mission Viejo and get them to teach them how to run a city on a budget. Today's Register has article "Mission Viejo reports $1 Million surplus, second in two years". Has a paragraph: "A large chunk of money also came from reimbusement the city received from Ladera Ranch and Las Flores for the widening project at OSO and Marguerite parkways." So it seems not only can they get a surplus from operating their city, they can also address the areas with traffic issues.
Myna B September 22, 2012 at 05:10 PM
How much you want to bet that that this place will be a good place to pick up some fast cash? Located right next to major freeway, only one security guard, clients with money, open late, serving drinks. I can just see the costs for sheriff's services go up because of all the calls this place is going to get.
Homer September 24, 2012 at 12:09 AM
Is there a special zoning for this business? Or, would it be possible for this type of business to apply for any location within city limits? Granted, several commercial businesses on this street are struggling (or gone). Would this business aid in recovery, or contribute to an increasing decline?
Sarah de Crescenzo (Editor) September 24, 2012 at 12:35 AM
@Homer: Off-track wagering establishments may operate in any part of Lake Forest zoned for commercial business, but require a Use Permit granted by the Planning Commission to do so.
bill odel January 28, 2014 at 07:23 PM
The location is hard to get to, but I will find it. Hurry.

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