The Thoroughbred Owners of California plans to withhold the state simulcast signal to Beulah Park beginning Feb. 20 following a unanimous vote of its board Feb. 15, TOC president Drew Couto said.
He said the TOC was acting in support of the Ohio Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association under the Interstate Horseracing Act of 1978. The Ohio horsemen are challenging in federal court the Ohio State Racing Commission's decision to overrule the blocking of the signal by Beulah Park to Harrah's Chester Downs, a Standardbred track and slot-machine facility in Pennsylvania. The Ohio HBPA contends it has control of the interstate transmission of the signal, and the racing commission acted beyond its scope.
“Make no mistake, horsemen own the image of their horses, their silks, they employ other horsemen to ride their horses, and collectively have and control the right to use and protect that property” said TOC board member Mace Siegel in a statement. “We will take whatever legal steps necessary to protect those rights, wherever and whenever they are challenged or denied horsemen.”
Couto said horsemen's control of racing's simulcast signal "is a fundamental principle" to the TOC board. He said the ban would remain in effect as long as Beulah Park is the live racing entity accepting the California signal.
Under the 1996 law that authorized full-card interstate simulcasts in Ohio, all racetracks in the state must have access to incoming signals. Therefore, no track or off-track betting parlor in Ohio can receive the California signals through the end of the Beulah Park meet May 5.
Currently, Bay Meadows and Santa Anita Park are open for live Thoroughbred racing in California.
"Recognizing that while one of our primary business objectives is to work with track partners to maximize purse and track revenues derived from the sale of our race signals, there are instances when one must place ahead of the quest for personal financial gain, the unavoidable need to protect principles fundamental to the long-term best interests of the sport and industry," Couto said. “TOC is not inclined to permit a track whose management does not value the role of their horsemen, nor the rights granted those horsemen under the IHA, to profit from the use of our race signals.”
He said the TOC would also file a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of the Ohio HBPA. The Ohio horsemen seek a United States District Court for Southern Ohio decision overruling the state racing commission, which found in favor of Beulah Park and River Downs in their effort to allow Harrah's Chester Downs to receive its signals in exchange for a 3% host fee. The Ohio HBPA wanted 5% and denied consent, prompting the tracks to appeal to the commission.
"There is simply too much at stake to pretend that this matter does not directly impact our member’s interests," Couto said.
The Ohio court case could be heard sometime this summer.