Ohio Bill Sets VLT Purse Share at 9% Minimum

Legislation passed by the Senate includes other language for horse racing.

Casino cleanup legislation passed by the Ohio Senate May 10 has some new horse racing-related language, including a section that ensures the industry will get no less than 9% of gross revenue from racetrack video lottery terminals.

The 2011 racetrack gaming law in Ohio set no percentage tracks must pay horsemen from VLT proceeds, but Republican Gov. John Kasich at the time said the two parties must agree on a figure. As of earlier this year there was no agreement.

The Senate bill, which passed on a 29-3 vote, states if there is no agreement, the Ohio State Racing Commission “may direct through rule” the percentage that will be paid “for the benefit of breeding and racing in the state.” The minimum is 9% and the maximum 11%.

The horsemen’s share and the state tax of 33.5% can’t exceed 45% combined, meaning the racetrack casino operators—called video lottery sales agents—would get 55% of gross VLT revenue.

The casino bill also reinstates the pari-mutuel percentage that supports the Ohio Thoroughbred Fund and related Standardbred breeding fund. An earlier version of the bill would have transferred that money to municipalities that host racetracks.

The Senate version ties minimum live racing dates to the level of VLT revenue at each racetrack, with a range of 75 to 125. The number can be increased or decreased, however, should horsemen and tracks reach an agreement to do so, subject to approval from the OSRC. No fewer than 50 live racing days can be offered at any track.

The bill includes language upholding horsemen’s rights under the Interstate Horseracing Act of 1978 and strips a controversial provision that allowed racetracks to ask the OSRC to intervene in disputes and overturn horsemen’s denial of consent in such cases. The statute led to a lawsuit several years ago; horsemen’s rights under the IHA were upheld in the case.

Also on the racing side, the bill sets jockey mount fees for Thoroughbred racing from first to fourth place, based on the purse. The lowest losing mount fee would be $50 (for a purse of up to $5,999) and the highest $105 (for a purse of $75,000 or greater).

The Ohio House of Representatives rejected the Senate version of the cleanup measure, meaning it heads to a negotiating committee. There were no immediate indications the racing-related provisions were in dispute.

Republican Rep. Louis Blessing, whose district includes River Downs near Cincinnati, told The Associated Press he urged the House to reject the changes until lawmakers have more time to carefully read the bill.

The state's first full-scale casino is supposed to open May 21 in downtown Cleveland. Racetrack VLTs have been challenged by a public policy group; a judge is expected to rule on the case before the end of May.