2013-11-21 / Business

Step up and place your bets

Tavern patrons can now wager on horse races
By Darleen Principe


‘AND THEY’RE OFF!’—Robert Blommer, left, of Yorba Linda points out the horse he placed a bet on to Rich Johnson at the Mermaid Tavern in Thousand Oaks Nov. 16. The Tavern became an official horse race wagering facility two months ago, allowing the broadcast of up to 14 race tracks on more than 40 high-definition plasma monitors. It is the only off-track betting venue in the county. 
SUSAN WEININGER/Acorn Newspapers ‘AND THEY’RE OFF!’—Robert Blommer, left, of Yorba Linda points out the horse he placed a bet on to Rich Johnson at the Mermaid Tavern in Thousand Oaks Nov. 16. The Tavern became an official horse race wagering facility two months ago, allowing the broadcast of up to 14 race tracks on more than 40 high-definition plasma monitors. It is the only off-track betting venue in the county. SUSAN WEININGER/Acorn Newspapers Local horse-racing enthusiasts who can’t make it out to Hollywood Park or Santa Anita can now place their bets to win, place or show at the Mermaid Tavern in Thousand Oaks.

The restaurant on Thousand Oaks Boulevard, which opened in February 2012, recently received a state license to operate a mini-satellite wagering facility, which airs live horse racing via satellite simulcast every Wednesday through Sunday.

The Mermaid Tavern began taking bets in early September, just in time for opening day of the Barretts Race Meet at Fairplex Park in Pomona.


PLAYING THE PONIES—Eugene Smith of Simi Valley waits for the horse race to begin after placing his bets on the betting machine behind him at the Mermaid Tavern in Thousand Oaks. 
Photos by SUSAN WEININGER/Acorn Newspapers PLAYING THE PONIES—Eugene Smith of Simi Valley waits for the horse race to begin after placing his bets on the betting machine behind him at the Mermaid Tavern in Thousand Oaks. Photos by SUSAN WEININGER/Acorn Newspapers Frank Ibanez, owner of the restaurant, said he applied for the off-track betting license from the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) because he wanted to offer something unique to the community.

“Horse racing is sort of (coming) alive again, especially in the communities around here,” he said. “The Santa Rosa Valley, Malibu, Old Agoura—these are all horse properties. Even though it’s a gambling thing, what we’re offering is the whole glamour of horse racing.”

The local eatery is the first in Ventura County to become licensed as a horse racing minisatellite location.

Unlike tracks, which host the races, and satellite locations at fairs and official racing associations—like the Derby Club at the Ventura County Fairgrounds—mini-satellites are located inside sports bars or restaurants.


WIN, PLACE, SHOW—Ken Wilson, left, of Simi Valley and John Barton of Agoura, center, keep an eye on their race books and the tote board at the Mermaid Tavern in Thousand Oaks on Saturday. WIN, PLACE, SHOW—Ken Wilson, left, of Simi Valley and John Barton of Agoura, center, keep an eye on their race books and the tote board at the Mermaid Tavern in Thousand Oaks on Saturday. The California Legislature legalized mini-satellite betting in 2007.

As part of the licensing process, the restaurant had to get approval from the City of Thousand Oaks to add off-track betting to its conditional use permit, Ibanez said.

“It’s like applying for a liquor license,” the owner said. “(The state) checks your background extensively. Then you have to comply with all the laws and regulations they require.”

State-run operation


CAN DO—Simi Valley resident Chris Bennett watches a jockey on one of the monitors showing horse races at the restaurant. CAN DO—Simi Valley resident Chris Bennett watches a jockey on one of the monitors showing horse races at the restaurant. Licensed and fully regulated by the CHRB, the betting area at the Mermaid Tavern is operated by state clerks, not restaurant employees.

“We do not touch any money that has to do with the betting,” Ibanez said.

Complete with large-screen televisions, self-serve wagering machines, a betting counter and seating area, the space in the back part of the restaurant is open only to adults 21 and older.

During live betting times, the restaurant is required under its license to have an on-duty security guard to ensure no minors enter the designated betting area.

Daniel Miller, assistant manager and head of security at the Mermaid Tavern, said he’s had a lot of positive feedback from customers.

“There’s no stigma at all,” Miller said. “Usually with gambling there’s a bit of a stigma attached to it. But fortunately Thousand Oaks has really welcomed (the off-track betting) with open arms.”

Robert Haupt, general manager of the restaurant, said he hopes the betting venue will increase traffic and help build a regular clientele.

“We’re starved a little bit for entertainment here in the Conejo Valley,” he said. “Before this, most people had to drive far from here to watch the races. . . . I think this screams to the neighborhood that we’re unique.”

Food and fun

Louis Masry and his wife, Dianne, sat at a booth inside the Mermaid Tavern last Friday, watching the races over lunch.

The Westlake Village couple, who own three race horses, said they came for the food and the atmosphere.

“There are a lot of horseracing fans that live in the Conejo Valley,” Masry said. “With the traffic going into Santa Anita or Hollywood Park, it’s so easy coming here to watch the races and enjoy yourself. And you can have lunch or dinner at the same time. That’s why we like it.”

Off-track betting at the Mermaid Tavern, 1345 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd., begins at 10 a.m. Wednesday through Sunday. Night races run from 5 to 10:30 p.m. Friday through Sunday. The mini-satellite broadcasts up to 14 tracks at a time, depending on the active races.

For more information call (805) 777-7418.

Return to top