Mountaineer, Horsemen in Contract Dispute

Mountaineer and the local horsemen's group are in a contract dispute.

A contract dispute threatens full-card simulcasts and could lead to daily stall rent and payments to keep the racetrack open for training effective Jan. 1 at Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort in West Virginia.

Mountaineer and the local Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association are in the process of negotiating a three-year contract that would cover 2010-12. As of Dec. 27, they had five days to strike a deal.

The track and horsemen reached verbal agreement on several key issues, including payment of purses to all starters, a reduction in the maximum allocation of purses to stakes from 8% to 6%, implementing a “start fee” that would be much lower than daily stall rent, and a commitment from management to keep the barn area and year-round training available at no cost to horsemen.

The provisions were confirmed by horsemen earlier and listed in a Dec. 22 letter from management to the Mountaineer HBPA.

Mountaineer received West Virginia Racing Commission approval to shut down for live racing in January and February 2010 and instead run its statute-mandated 210 days over 10 months. But the contract between the track and horsemen must be in place by Dec. 31 for normal operations to continue, track officials said.

The horsemen’s group has said export of the Mountaineer signal is a sticking point. It would like more transparency in regard to the process, officials said. Under the Interstate Horseracing Act of 1978, an agreement with horsemen is required for a signal to be exported.

In the letter to horsemen, Mountaineer director of racing Rose Mary Williams said in the absence of simulcast approval, the track and horsemen “will suffer a significant negative financial impact representing approximately $10 million” a year. She said if an agreement isn’t in place by Dec. 31, “this funding source will no longer be available for purses or for the track to offset operational costs from operations.”

In previous contract disputes at Mountaineer, simulcasts have been suspended but gaming operations have continued. Horsemen get a cut of revenue from about 3,000 video lottery terminals and a smaller share from table games, which were authorized in 2007.

Williams said with no deal in place, horsemen would be charged $15 a day per stall; the Mountaineer HBPA would have to pay $10,000 a day to keep the track open for training; and the horsemen’s group would have to enter into a formal lease for its office space, which is located between the barn area and the racetrack.

“At this point, we are unsure as to when an agreement may be reached, so these policies are required in an effort to minimize the financial impacts relating to the uncertain future,” Williams said in the letter.

The final live racing program for 2009 at Mountaineer is scheduled for Dec. 29. The meet-ending feature is the $75,000 New Year's Eve Stakes.