It appears major changes are coming to Centaur Gaming-owned Indiana Downs in the form of facility upgrades and a closer working relationship between the track and horsemen's groups.
Centaur chairman and chief executive officer Rod Ratcliff said the company plans capital improvements that will better link the grandstand and clubhouse with the Indiana Grand Casino gaming floor. In addition, the one-mile dirt surface will get a major overhaul before the start of the 2014 meet per a mandate by the Indiana Horse Racing Commission.
"We plan to integrate the grandstand with the casino so it flows back and forth," Ratcliff said Oct. 5 during the track's Indiana Derby (gr. II) program. "We think that's the future for double-use facilities."
Centaur also owns Hoosier Park Racing & Casino, where the gaming and racing areas are connected. This year Hoosier Park took all the Standardbred racing dates, and Indiana Downs the Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse dates.
"We can give both breeds a great track," Ratcliff said. "Let's tear up this track (at Indiana Downs), put in a good, solid base, and get up to the level of the top tier of tracks. We can build on our success after this year."
New barns already have been constructed at Indiana Downs to accommodate more horses as part of a deal Centaur made with the IHRC to win approval for its "one track, one breed" plan. Indiana Downs also was told it must pursue accreditation from the National Thoroughbred Racing Association Safety and Integrity Alliance.
On the financial side, a change in state law this year puts horse racing's share of slot machine revenue in the hands of the tracks and horsemen's groups. The amount distributed now must be determined by negotiation committees that represent horsemen and the tracks.
As part of the new language, the percentage of slots revenue to purses was changed from 15% to at least 10% and not more than 12%. The new figure applies to gross slots receipts collected by the tracks after Dec. 31, 2013.
Horsemen said Centaur has agreed to the full 12% for 2014. Meanwhile, Ratcliff and the Indiana Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association confirmed all parties have agreed on "subordination" of slots funds tied to an expected effort by Centaur to refinance after February 2014. The deal allows Centaur to use about $55 million as collateral.
"It's possible we could refinance next year," Ratcliff said of Centaur, which purchased Indiana Downs and the Indiana Grand Casino for $500 million through a bankruptcy auction earlier this year. "We're all in this together. I can put more money into (facility improvements). It can work out well for the track and the horsemen."
Indiana HBPA executive director Mike Brown noted the group has a good relationship with Centaur and, under the new statutory language, has more options. He said the Indiana HBPA board recognizes the racetrack needs to be healthy for horsemen to be healthy in future years.
Indiana law states approval of the slots revenue distribution agreement must be obtained by the IHRC before Jan. 1, 2014. The IHRC has scheduled its next meeting for Oct. 29.