By Jim Freer and Ryan Conley
Agreements on advance deposit wagering contracts have been reached for Calder Race Course and Gulfstream Park, officials on both sides of negotiations confirmed Dec. 22.
The agreements should enable all major ADWs to take Internet and phone bets, said Kent Stirling, executive director of the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, which has been involved in protacted negotiations since April.
“We have a written offer (from CDI), and we have given our written consent,” Stirling said. “As far as we are concerned, this will allow ADW signals to be turned on immediately for Calder.”
Stirling said the deal will be effective through next year's Calder and Tropical-at-Calder meets, while Florida HBPA president Sam Gordon told The Blood-Horse the agreement calls for ADWs to pay a 7% fee on handle from the Calder signal and a 9% fee on handle from the Gulfstream signal.
Additionally, the Florida HPBA has reached agreement with Gulfstream on a 2009 purse contract, Stirling said. Calder will end its current meet Jan. 2, and Gulfstream will open its 2009 meet Jan. 3.
The Florida HPBA is a member of the Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Group, which has generally been seeking one-third of ADW revenue for its member horsemen’s groups. “We are thankful for the help that THG has given us on this, and for (TrackNet Media Group) in allowing us to bring this to fruition,” Stirling said.
Certain member groups of the THG have recently put together ADW deals without the direct help of the national coalition, such as signal agreements for Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots and Tampa Bay Downs, but Stirling said the THG was kept abreast of negotiations for Calder and Gulfstream.
“The THG isn’t dead,” Stirling said. “People tell us you have really brought something good to the industry. Without (the THG), we wouldn't be looking at the host fees that we have gotten.”
Gulfstream’s parent, Magna Entertainment Corp., and CDI are partners in TrackNet Media, a joint content venture that negotiates contracts for the parents’ ADWs. CDI owns TwinSpires.com, and MEC owns XpressBet.com.
Scott Daruty, president of TrackNet Media, said the agreement was just reached with the Florida HBPA the morning of Dec. 22, so other large ADWs such as TVG and Youbet.com have not had a chance to consider the terms.
"Right now XpressBet and TwinSpires have both agreed to the terms," Daruty said. "The same terms will be presented to Youbet and TVG. And if they accept, then they will get the signals as well. If they don’t, then obviously they won’t get the signals. The same terms will be made available to those platforms as they were to the XpressBet and TwinSpires platforms."
Daruty said a deal was finally reached following a series of long negotiations. "I think at the end, both Tracknet and the Florida HBPA made some concessions, and we arrived at a deal that everyone can live with. That is the bottom line."
Gordon agreed the deal was a result of the diligent effort of many parties.
“We worked very long and hard to get this done, and we worked on it all this weekend,” Gordon said. “(Santa Anita Park president) Ron Charles helped us in our talks with Scott Daruty.”
Since its opening day of April 21, the Calder signal has not been available through most major ADWs. One notable exception is the six New York State off-track betting corporations.
Because the Florida HBPA has an ADW contract with Calder, it used its authority under the Interstate Horseracing Act to prevent Calder from sending its signal to most ADWs except for several that had long-term contracts.
The ADW agreement for Calder follows nine months of sometimes bitter negotiations that pitted CDI against the THG and Florida HPBA. Until it signed a Calder purse contract July 7, the Florida HPBA did not permit Calder to send its signal to racetracks outside Florida, and horsemen’s groups in several states did not permit tracks to send signals to Calder.
The combination of simulcast and ADW blackouts is a major reason for this year’s decline in handle at Calder. CDI said in its third-quarter Securities and Exchange Commission report that Calder’s net pari-mutuel revenue fell from $58.8 million for the first nine months of 2007 to $44.6 million for that period this year.
Harry Benson, a trainer and Florida HBPA board member, said the ADW agreements with the two South Florida tracks appear to be "as good as those in any (racetracks) in the country. I am happy that we got as good a deal as we can get, but I am sorry that the fans around the country were shut out for so long."
Calder’s decline in handle has led to a series of purse cuts and stakes cancellations.
“This has had an impact on the horsemen, especially some of the smaller barns,” Benson said. “It has become critical for some just to stay alive. Hopefully, this (ADW deal) is not too late.”
Benson has been prominent among a group of Florida HPBA members who, he said, “were adamant all along of the need to get an ADW deal done.”
“Now, we need to get back to cooperating with the tracks,” he said. “Our enemies are outside the gate. Friends should not be fighting with friends.”