The Jockeys' Guild has asked the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board to consider the catastrophic on-track accident insurance policy at Philadelphia Park before it grants the racetrack a permanent license to operate slot machines.
Philly Park, which is scheduled to open its slots parlor in mid-December under a temporary license, offers $100,000 in on-track accident insurance, a figure believed to be the lowest of any major track in the country. Penn National Race Course, the other operating Thoroughbred track in Pennsylvania, offers maximum coverage of $1 million.
In a Dec. 1 letter to the gaming control board, Guild national manager Dwight Manley said track operator Greenwood Racing's "refusal to adequately protect its jockeys is all the more troublesome given its prospects for opening a slots parlor and the accompanying positive revenue implications."
"The track's management is projecting purses will increase to as much as $400,000 per day, along with substantial increases in terminal revenue," the letter says. "Yet they are unwilling to pay the $1,800 per race day to properly insurance the jockeys."
In Pennsylvania, horsemen and breed development programs will receive 12% of gross slots revenue from racetrack casinos, and up to 6% more when non-track slots parlors open over the course of the next four years. Track operators get 45% of gross revenue and are responsible for all costs associated with building and operating the slots casinos.
When told of the letter to the gaming control board, Philly Park chief executive officer Hal Handel said he had no comment. A gaming control board spokesman said the Guild letter hadn't been received as of Dec. 5.
Manley copied the letter to Congressmen Bart Stupak of Michigan and Ed Whitfield of Kentucky. The legislators, a Democrat and Republican, respectively, were the driving force behind two federal hearings into jockey health and welfare issues in 2005-06, and they support legislation that would amend the Interstate Horseracing Act to provide revenue for comprehensive insurance for jockeys and backstretch workers.
In early November, Anthony Black, the all-time leading rider at Philly Park, was injured in an on-track accident at the track. Black, on the sidelines, again asked the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission at its Nov. 30 meeting to step in and address the insurance issue at the track.
Black is the head of Philadelphia Park Jockeys, a local group not affiliated with the Jockeys' Guild. But John Velazquez, chairman of the Guild, indicated the organization is assisting Philly Park riders.
"We are working with Tony Black at Philadelphia Park to put in place a minimum $1-million insurance policy," Velazquez said. "We will not gamble with jockeys' lives."
In his letter to the gaming control board, Manley said Philly Park was among the many tracks that cut off annual payments to the Guild to help offset insurance costs. He claims the track is in a position to negotiate a group rate that would be cheaper than individual policies purchased by jockeys.
"Finally, we question whether Greenwood's plan for the slots parlor will meet the Pennsylvania Race Horse Development and Gaming Act's objective of creating quality, living-wage jobs that mitigate workers' reliance on public services such as healthcare," Manley said.
The on-track insurance issue came to a head in 2004 when jockey Gary Birzer was injured and paralyzed in a racing accident at Mountaineer Race Track & Gaming Resort. At the time, the Guild's catastrophic insurance policy had been canceled, and Birzer was eligible for only $100,000 in benefits.
Mountaineer, which derives revenue from slots, later purchased a $1-million on-track accident policy.