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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.

Off-Track Horse Race Betting Coming to Lake Forest? Off-Track Horse Race Betting Coming to Lake Forest?

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.

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