In response to statements made by the Florida Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association in regard to purse cuts, Calder Race Course president Ken Dunn responded Nov. 11 by saying the decision was based on simple economics and was absolutely necessary based on decreased business during the month of October.
“We never like to (reduce purses),” Dunn said. “It’s unfortunate. But there is nothing in the statute that says you must negotiate or overpay purses. We closed our book for the month of October and saw that we couldn’t afford to keep purses at their current level. Our goal is to come out even, but that doesn’t always happen.
“We look at the numbers on a weekly basis and adjust depending on business. It’s a terrible thing to have to announce purse cuts. Nobody likes it, but we had to make a business decision. We are a publicly traded company."
On Nov. 10, Calder, which is owned by Churchill Downs Inc., announced it would cut purses by about $10,000 per day, or 7%, beginning Nov. 15. Citing a decrease in attendance and handle, the South Florida racetrack also canceled a pair of $100,000 stakes. The Tropical at Calder meet runs through Jan. 2, 2008.
That announcement upset members of the Florida HBPA, including president Samuel Gordon, who called the decision “rash.” Gordon also said Calder "had no regard for the horsemen. They didn't talk or negotiate. They just dictated terms. It has caused a big uproar on the backside. There is going to be hell to pay."
Dunn said Calder overpaid purses for the 2006 Tropical meet. He said horsemen receive 57% of every dollar bet at the racetrack.
Dunn cited a number of reasons for decreased business during the Tropical meet, which opened Oct. 15. “I think economic condition, weather, and added competition are the biggest reasons,” he said. “There has been an inordinate amount of rain at bad times that has caused some of our big races to be taken off the turf. There are also three racinos in the area that were not here during the meet last year.”
Gulfstream Park, Mardi Gras (Hollywood) Greyhound track, and Isle of Capri Casino at Pompano Park now have slot machines.
Dunn also said the decrease in purse levels equates to less than $1,000 per race, and that the reduction was weighted so bottom -level races are affected less (3% or 4%) than upper-end stakes.
“You can only pay what is there,” Dunn said. “The only way purses go up is if business goes up. We have a great relationship with the horsemen and we will continue to work together. The meet is short enough that we can evaluate this on a weekly basis.”
Calder is preparing for a Miami-Dade County vote early next year on slots at pari-mutuel facilities.