The Ohio State Racing Commission Dec. 19 postponed granting a new racetrack gaming facility a 2014 racing permit because its owners have decided not to have pari-mutuel clerks for live or simulcast racing.
Miami Valley Gaming and Racing opened Dec. 12 with video lottery terminals and full-card simulcasts. The facility, which replaces nearby Lebanon Raceway, is scheduled to begin live harness racing in early February.
The track's owners—Churchill Downs Inc. and Delaware North Companies—were under fire from the OSRC when they unveiled plans for the facility about a year ago. At issue was the number of seats overlooking live racing in the grandstand.
The plan to not employ pari-mutuel clerks never came up during meetings, OSRC members said.
OSRC executive director Bill Crawford said he visited Miami Valley after it opened and found there were only self-service machines in the simulcast room. There were at least 70 patrons in the room, he said.
"I was told there would be no tellers for the simulcast or the live racing product," Crawford told the commission. "A lot of Miami Valley people are upset and are now going to River Downs (for full-card simulcasts)."
River Downs, which is being rebuilt and renamed Belterra Park, will be dark for full-card simulcasts from February through April 2014 so construction of the new facility can be completed.
Crawford said it's not unusual for tracks to reduce the number of pari-mutuel clerks if business warrants during certain days or times, but every other Ohio racetrack has clerks.
"Isn't it true even our smallest fairs have mutuel clerks?" OSRC member Mark Munroe said.
Jim Simms, general manager of Miami Valley, said the owners wanted to try a new approach geared toward more technology and less labor costs. He said the Lebanon Raceway operation, which employed clerks, "lost a lot of money, so the goal for this operation was to be on the cutting edge of technology."
Simms said Miami Valley does have employees on hand to teach horseplayers how to use their mobile devices to wager or assist with self-service machines.
"Technology is something we can't stop," he said. "No doubt the approach we're taking is radical. It's also a labor issue."
OSRC chairman Robert Schmitz called for a meeting to discuss "the proper mix of pari-mutuel clerks and self-service machines." He said the racing permit won't be granted to Miami Valley until the issue is resolved.
Meanwhile, the OSRC unanimously adopted a resolution granting a permit to Beulah Park for what will be its final meet from January to May 3, 2014. Owner Penn National Gaming Inc. will replace the Columbus-area racetrack with Hollywood Gaming at Mahoning Valley Race Course near Youngstown.
PNGI and the Ohio Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association are close on a contract for the new facility, and the OSRC wanted Beulah Park to have a permit so it can open in early January.