Tampa Bay Downs

Tampa Bay Downs

Tom Cooley Photography

Tampa Bay Plans Same Schedule in 2014

Track says host simulcasting fees have helped it boost purses.

Tampa Bay Downs is planning a repeat of its current racing schedule in 2014, again with the controversial two extra days that in 2013 helped it significantly increase its business in Florida's lucrative host track simulcasting market.

The Oldsmar, Fla., track selected that schedule in a preliminary filing it submitted Dec. 22 to the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering. Under Florida's "pick-your-own-dates system" the track said it intends to have 91 race days during the Florida 2014-15 fiscal year.

That will be during the 12 months from July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2015. Tampa Bay Downs plans to have racing on the first and last day, with a goal of again being a year-round host track, and have its traditional five-month season that will begin Nov. 29.

Tampa Bay Downs officials were not available for comment Dec. 30, the day The Blood-Horse received the filing from the Florida DPMW. A spokeswoman for that regulator said it has not received preliminary filings from Gulfstream Park, Calder Casino & Race Course, or Hialeah Park.

Those four tracks and all other Florida pari-mutuels have until Jan. 4 to send preliminary dates filings to the Florida DPMW. They can amend those filings an unlimited number of times and they have until Feb. 28 to submit final filings, which generally receive automatic approval from the Florida DPMW.

Tampa Bay Downs' preliminary plan calls for it to have racing on July 1, 2014 and not race again for almost five months. It would hold its traditional meet from Nov. 29 through May 3, 2015, and then be dark until a single race day on June 30, 2015.

A Florida host track pays to take simulcast signals from Thoroughbred tracks outside Florida and sells them to other Florida pari-mutuels, which are known as guest tracks.

The Blood-Horse estimates that host tracks' combined annual pre-tax revenue from import simulcasts has been between $30 million and $40 million in recent years. Half of the revenue must be put into race purses at the host track. (See related story)

Until this year, the Florida DPMW allowed a track to be a host only during periods when it is holding a meet with at least three race days during consecutive weeks.

For the current fiscal year the Florida DPMW accepted Tampa Bay's interpretation of Florida law that running the first day and last day of a fiscal year, with a regular meet of at least 40 days in between, is sufficient to be a year-round simulcast host.

With additional interpretations, the Florida DPMW since May 2013 has allowed Tampa Bay, Calder, and Gulfstream to be year-round hosts.

However the Florida DPMW is reviewing its recently proposed rule that could prevent Tampa Bay, starting in mid 2014, from continuing as a host track on a year-round basis.

On Dec. 3, it issued the proposal that would allow a track to be a host only during a period when it is holding a race meet in consecutive weeks, while racing at least three days a week.

The Florida DPMW will hold a public hearing on the rule on March 6 in Tallahassee. It has no timetable for issuing a final rule.

The Florida DPMW began reviewing its host track eligibility rules in June 2013 after Calder, which is racing three days a week year-round, filed an administrative complaint that challenges Tampa Bay's eligibility to be a year-round host.

By expanding from five months to 12 months as a host, Tama Bay is on path to increase its host track wagering business from about $39 million in 2012-13 to about $76 million for the current fiscal year, based on a review of Florida DPMW data. Its revenue from that betting likely would grow from about $5 million to about $10 million,

Tampa Bay Downs has said that its increase in host track business is helping it raise total purses by 15%, or about $20,000 per race day, during its current meet.

Tampa Bay Downs officials have noted that their track does not have slot machines, whereas Gulfstream and Calder have slot machines that contribute money to race purses.

Pending Filings

The biggest issue in Florida's dates filing season is whether Miami-area neighbors Gulfstream and Calder will again race head-to-head on weekends, or reach an agreement with Gulfstream leasing some dates from Calder and moving them to Calder. (See related story)

For now, Calder's public message is that it will not back down in the face of Gulfstream's expansion plans. Calder's first filing will be "for the same core schedule as this year," a Calder official said Dec. 30.

That indicates Calder will file to run Fridays through Sundays for the entire fiscal year.

Gulfstream president Tim Ritvo said Dec. 28 that his track plans to race at least three days a week throughout the 12 months. Gulfstream leads Calder by more than a 3-to-1 margin in daily average all-sources handle since they began head-to-head weekend racing in July 2013.

Another key question is whether Hialeah will seek to return to Thoroughbred racing for the first time since 2001. Under its Quarter Horse license, which it received in 2009, Hialeah is eligible to hold a mixed meet with up to 50% of its races as Thoroughbreds.