By Lynne Snierson
The New England chapter of the Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association has withdrawn its consent for races from the New York Racing Association to be simulcast at Suffolk Downs after negotiations regarding purses for the 2011 live meet broke down.
All advance deposit wagering concerns, including TVG and ExpressBet, which have account holders residing in Massachusetts are also subject to the ban, which went into effect Jan. 28.
“We’re a little puzzled by this action. I don’t know how this benefits anyone, and it certainly doesn’t help us generate money to pay purses. This is a slap in the face to the loyal bettors who have supported New England racing for years,” said Chip Tuttle, chief operating officer of the East Boston, Mass. track. “We thought we were negotiating in good faith and were making progress.”
Suffolk Downs applied for and was granted 100 days of live racing in 2011 by the state racing commission. The track is mandated by state law to conduct a 100-day meet and the statute requires purse funding based on percentages of total wagering, regardless of whether the track is profitable. Suffolk Downs projected it would pay $7.5 million in purses, for a minimum of $75,000 per day.
According to sources, the HBPA demanded the track commit to pay $10.6 million in purses for the 2011 meet, which would be an average daily distribution of $106,000. Suffolk Downs management said it countered with an offer of $100,000 per day over 67 to 76 days, providing the law governing the minimum number of racing days could be changed.
NEHBPA President Al Balestra was unavailable for comment, but racetrack sources indicated the horsemen told track management they would refuse to work together to reduce the mandated number of live racing days.
“They are asking management to pay $3 million more than we are obligated to,” Tuttle said. “Given current business conditions, that makes no sense. I understand their frustration. It was never our intent to offer the lowest purses on the East Coast. The real answer is for us not to fight over crumbs, but instead to work together and generate the changes that would put us on a par with the other East Coast tracks that have expanded gaming and thus can offer higher purses.”
After negotiations between the NEHBPA and Rockingham Park management failed in 2002, the track switched from Thoroughbred to harness racing. As of Friday, Rockingham was still simulcasting races from the NYRA.