By Lynne Snierson
Suffolk Downs and the New England Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association continued to negotiate Feb. 18 and indications are that the two sides are creeping closer to common ground on a contract for 2011.
“Constructive dialogue is continuing,” said Christian Teja, Suffolk’s vice president of marketing and communications.
The horsemen and track management, who have been embroiled in a bitter disagreement over purse structure, the number of live racing days, and the sharing of simulcast revenue for more than four weeks, returned to the bargaining table in the form of a 90 minute conference call Feb. 17. While representatives for both sides still would not reveal specific details of the ongoing conversations, the tone from both camps is less acrimonious.
“We are waiting for a response to our latest proposal, and if I get it, we will have a board meeting over the weekend and then get back to them on Monday (Feb. 21),” said Frank Frisoli, general counsel to the NEHBPA, which raced without a contract in 2010.
In its initial offer to the horsemen, the track sought 67 days of live racing, with the possibility of extending the meet to 76 days should expanded gaming legislation pass in Massachusetts, and an average daily purse distribution of $100,000. The position of the NEHBPA was that its members need the minimum of 100 days of live racing currently mandated by state statute and $10.6 million in purses in order to pay bills and feed their horses. The two factions have also remained at odds over the percentages of the simulcast revenue to be shared, with the NEHBPA asking for a 50-50 split.
During the dispute, the NEHBPA withdrew its permission for races from the New York Racing Association to be simulcast and then horsemen in Ohio, Florida, Oregon, and Maryland pulled their signals in a show of support. Those signals have yet to be restored and as a result of the decline in simulcasting revenue, Suffolk has cut back its hours of operation and reduced staffing.
Suffolk Downs traditionally runs an early May to late November live meet, so track management and the horsemen still have time to hammer out a deal before the backside would open in April.