Ohio HBPA Forces VLT Issue With Thistledown

The horsemen's group has threatened to withhold approval for export of the signal.

The Ohio Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association has informed Thistledown it won't grant the track approval to export its signal when live racing begins April 19 because it has no deal with horsemen on revenue from video lottery terminals.

Thistledown, located near Cleveland and now called ThistleDown Racino, will activate more than 1,000 VLTs during its grand opening April 9. It will become the second track behind Scioto Downs, a Columbus harness track, to operate the gaming devices under a 2011 Ohio law.

Thoroughbred and Standardbred horsemen's groups have worked for almost two years to strike a deal with Ohio racetracks on a VLT split for purses and breed development. A percentage wasn't mandated in the VLT law, though a 2012 cleanup bill set the range at 9% to 11%.

The Ohio State Racing Commission has the authority to set the percentage should horsemen and tracks fail to agree on a number.

"We considered a lot of different options because we have no agreement on revenue sharing," Ohio HBPA executive director Dave Basler said April 8. "My board of directors has not authorized me to grant Thistledown export approval (for its signal)."

Basler said Thistledown was notified the first week of April.

In a statement, Marcus Glover, senior vice president and general manager for Horseshoe Casino Cleveland, a sister property of Thistledown, said April 8:  "We will continue to work with the horsemen to reach a mutually beneficial agreement."

The horsemen's action would keep owner Rock Gaming from sending the Thistledown signal out of state. Under Ohio law, in-state betting outlets would continue to receive the signal.

When Scioto Downs launched VLT gaming in June 2012, it had no VLT revenue contract with the Ohio Harness Horsemen's Association. Thus, the track, under a deal with the OSRC, placed the minimum of 9% into an escrow account.

Purses at Scioto Downs doubled or tripled last summer depending on the class of the race. But with the 2013 live meet approaching in early May, purses continue to earn the minimum allowed by law.

Horsemen have said privately they fear the lack of a statewide agreement or racing commission action will allow only the minimum amount of VLT revenue to be escrowed for purses. Thus far negotiations have stalled.

Even though VLT revenue hasn't come in, Thistledown's first condition book shows purses almost double those of 2012, when an average of $50,538 was paid over a 122-day meet. The Ohio HBPA and Thistledown last year agreed to run the same 122 days in 2013.