by Lynne Snierson
There is a deadline looming in the 2011 contract dispute between Suffolk Downs and the New England Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, with Feb. 25 is the date when the issue will be settled or the divide will grow deeper, according to the general counsel for the horsemen.
“Suffolk Downs has advanced its latest proposal and has set hard deadlines,” NEHBPA general counsel Frank Frisoli said. “(Feb. 25) is the day for us to get back to them, and they said after that their position is likely to change. Ours would then change as well.
“So there will either be a deal or not. We will reach agreement or not.”
Meanwhile, the lines of communication are open and the telephone lines have been burning. The NEHBPA board of directors, which is comprised of five owners, five trainers, the president, the executive director, and Frisoli, held a marathon conference call the night of Feb. 23, and there is another session scheduled for the night of Feb. 24 to discuss all of their options.
“Suffolk Downs’ offer contains significant concessions on their part, and it also requires significant concessions on our part,” said Frisoli, a longtime Thoroughbred owner who races at the East Boston, Mass., track. “The big issues remain dates and money.”
Throughout the five-week long negotiations, which have been acrimonious at times, the points of contention have remained the same. The two sides have yet been able to reach consensus on the number of live racing days, purse structure, and the split of the revenue generated by simulcasting.
“I see a framework for agreement here (in the latest counterproposal put on the table by Suffolk), but I do not know if our board will approve it,” Frisoli said.
On Feb. 21 Suffolk threatened to shut down in March if the NEHBPA and other chapters across the country do not restore simulcast signals by Feb. 27. The horsemen, who raced without a contract in 2010 and saw purses cut during the summer meet after legislation to expand gambling failed in Massachusetts, withdrew their consent for races from the New York Racing Association to be simulcast at Suffolk on Jan. 28. Horsemen in Ohio, Florida, Oregon, and Maryland subsequently withdrew their signals in a show of solidarity at the beginning of February.
According to figures released by the track Feb. 24, Suffolk experienced a 3.8% decline in simulcast wagering in January as opposed to January of 2010. The numbers for February are significantly worse, with Suffolk experiencing a 44.9% drop in simulcast handle.
From Feb. 1- 23 in 2010, the track took in $4,431,110 in simulcast handle, but for a similar period in 2011, only $2,442,451 was bet on races from other tracks.
Suffolk chief executive officer Chip Tuttle was traveling out of state and unavailable for comment. But Tuttle said earlier Suffolk has already reduced its hours of operation and staffing due to the revenue decline.