OH Horsemen Fight Breeding Fund Money Grab

Legislation passed by the House would shift the funding to host municipalities.

Ohio horsemen are lobbying the state Senate to alter language in House-passed legislation that would shift pari-mutuel revenue for breeding funds to municipalities that host racetracks.

The Ohio Thoroughbred Race Fund and Ohio Standardbred Race Fund receive 1.125% of pari-mutuel handle for Ohio-bred stakes and awards. It is the only source of funding for the programs, which have experienced declines given what has been an annual 12% decline in handle in Ohio.

The bill passed by the House of Representatives Feb. 15 and was introduced in the Senate Feb. 21. No action has been taken in that chamber.

Trainer Tim Hamm, president of the Ohio Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners, said March 6 he spoke with lawmakers about the proposed shift in revenue that would take effect July 2013 under the House bill. The language, Hamm said, was one of several compromises lawmakers believed were needed to get the bill through the chamber.

“When we saw this we drafted a letter to the Senate to get this stopped,” Hamm said. “Our position is this would put us in a hole with no legislation protecting (horsemen). We let our voice be heard loudly, and we’re hopeful this can be corrected in the Senate.”

The OTRF is scheduled to pay $1.76 million in funds in 2012. Part of that amount comes from a $700,000 carryover that will be used over a three-year period to offset declines in revenue from handle.

Without funding the stakes schedules in Ohio would be decimated, since all but a handful of Thoroughbred and Standardbred stakes are for Ohio-bred or -sired horses. Most open stakes were eliminated years ago as handle continued its freefall.

The OTBO and Ohio Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association are working with the Ohio Harness Horsemen’s Association and related groups to protect the funding.

Ohio racetracks are planning to install video lottery terminals, though the issue remains tied up in court. Revenue from VLTs would go to horsemen for purses and probably breed development programs, but no percentage has been determined.

“It is still being negotiated,” Hamm said of VLT revenue splits. “There has been some serious talk and numbers put out there, but that’s all we can say right now. I’m encouraged there will be a fair deal.

“Thoroughbred and Standardbred horsemen have been in agreement on every issue thus far.”

The prospect of racetrack VLTs, which became law in 2011, already is having some impact, officials said. In the past six weeks, the number of Thoroughbred mares registered in Ohio was up over previous years.

The House bill, primarily a gaming cleanup measure, does contain language protecting live racing dates and full-card simulcasts. For Thoroughbred racing, permit-holders must conduct at least 75 live racing days or the number conducted in 2012, whichever is greater, in 2013.

In 2014, the minimum increases to 100 days or the number conducted in 2012, whichever is greater. In 2015 and beyond, a permit holder can offer no less than 125 live racing days and no more than 210, according to the bill.

Horsemen and racetracks must be in agreement before a different number of days could be offered, and the plan must be approved by the Ohio State Racing Commission. Also, full-card simulcasts must be offered at each track a minimum of 360 days a year, the bill states.