River Downs

River Downs

Courtesy River Downs

OH Tracks Have Dates But No Horsemen's Deal

Two Ohio tracks have no dates agreements with the Ohio HBPA for 2011.

Ohio’s three Thoroughbred racetracks have mapped out their live racing schedules for 2011, but two of them still have no agreement with horsemen on racing dates.

The Ohio State Racing Commission approved the dates earlier this year, but in the cases of River Downs and Thistledown, it noted the tracks don’t have the required “two-party agreement” with the Ohio Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association. Both tracks have requested fewer dates than required by state statute.

Beulah Park was approved for 122 programs, which meets the statutory requirement. River Downs, at 81 days, and Thistledown, at 122 days, fall short of their minimums, which are tied to the number of live racing dates held when full-card simulcasts became legal in the mid-1990s.

Absent a deal with horsemen, the tracks won’t be able to import full-card simulcasts in 2012.

Beulah Park’s winter/spring season will run from Jan. 8-May 7, with racing five days a week in January and February and three days a week in March, April, and May. The track’s fall meet runs from Oct. 10-Dec. 21, with racing five days a week.

River Downs is scheduled to open April 29 and race through Sept. 5, Labor Day, with racing four days a week on a Thursday-through-Sunday schedule. This year, the Cincinnati-area track raced five days a week (104 programs) when it was unable to get horsemen’s approval to reduce the schedule.

Thistledown is scheduled to open April 23 and close Nov. 5. Racing would be held four days a week from April-August and five days a week from September through meet’s end.

Thistledown has applied for the same number of dates it raced this year, when the Ohio HBPA signed a two-party agreement.

Ohio HBPA executive director Dave Basler confirmed Dec. 21 horsemen have no agreement with River Downs and Thistledown. River Downs is in the process of being sold to Pinnacle Entertainment, while Thistledown was sold to Harrah’s Entertainment earlier this year.

“We’ve had discussions with Thistledown and plan to resume discussions in January,” Basler said. “We’ve not had substantive discussions with River Downs (given the sale circumstances). We look forward to meeting with new management at such time as the deal is finalized.”

Pinnacle, which owns Belterra Casino in neighboring Indiana, said it hopes to close on the River Downs purchase in the first quarter of 2011.

Outgoing Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland in 2009 issued a directive to the Ohio Lottery to install video lottery terminals at the state’s seven racetracks. The plan met with legal challenges but became more plausible when a group challenging it pulled its request for a statewide referendum on racetrack VLTs this year.

Tracks and horsemen are waiting to see whether incoming Republican Gov. John Kasich decides to move forward with the VLT directive. He said he needs more time to study the issue.