HANA Targets Takeout Hike, Wants Panel Formed

HANA wants a California takeout hike reversed and a gambling panel formed.

The Horseplayers Association of North America is calling for reversal of a pari-mutuel takeout increase in California as well as creation of a “gambling board” that would advise the California Horse Racing Board.

HANA first announced plans for a wagering boycott of Santa Anita Park racing in December. The Los Angeles Turf Club meet began Dec. 26, 2010, but the takeout hike didn’t take effect until Jan. 1.

Takeout rates were increased by two percentage points: the rate for daily doubles and exactas went from 20.68% to 22.68%, while the rate for wagers involving three or more horses went from 20.68% to 23.68% under a plan endorsed by many in the California racing industry. Industry officials have maintained the current rates are in line with those in other jurisdictions; HANA claims any takeout hike is bad for business.

The takeout hike was implemented so purses could be increased roughly 25% in an effort to attract fuller fields. Based on statistics from The Jockey Club Information Systems, average daily purses are up but field size is down at Santa Anita.

Purses averaged $424,276 at Santa Anita from Jan. 1-12 (six days of racing) versus $353,348 from Jan. 1-12, 2010 (eight days of racing). The track is racing four days a week instead of five, which it did last year.

In 2010 for the first eight days of the meet, purses totaled $2,826,782. This year, for six days, $2,545,658 in purses has been paid.

But with one fewer day of racing per week, field size is averaging 7.69 horses per race, down from 7.91 from the same period last year, according to TJCIS. Santa Anita has struggled to fill full programs on some days, though track officials contend some horsemen are waiting for the new dirt surface to settle before entering their horses.

From Jan. 1-12 at Gulfstream Park, where handle is up double digits, field size averaged 9.84 horses per race, according to TJCIS, followed by Tampa Bay Downs at 9.11, Turfway Park at 8.63, Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots at 8.29, and Aqueduct at 7.84.

Based on various statistics, including those provided by HANA, total handle on Santa Anita racing is down about 18% from the comparable period in 2010. Several reasons have been cited, including reduced opportunities to wager in New York because of the closure of New York City Off-Track Betting Corp.

California officials have downplayed the boycott, but HANA claims it’s having an impact.

“The California Horse Racing Board approved the takeout increase figuring that players would just complain and go along like sheep,” HANA president Jeff Platt said in a statement. “But, partly thanks to word of mouth and partly to players who are willing to stand up for what they believe in, handle has dropped precipitously at Santa Anita so far this meet, while handle at several other tracks has been up.”

The proposed gambling board would address takeout rates, new wagers, and pari-mutuel rules. HANA proposes a three-member board: an economist, a racetrack official, and a players’ representative.