KY Horsemen Hope Election Aids Contract Talks

Kentucky horsemen and Turfway Park have no contract yet for September.

Kentucky horsemen are hoping “light at the end of the tunnel” could help facilitate a contract for the upcoming Turfway Park meet.

With less than two weeks before the meet begins Sept. 9, the Kentucky Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association and Turfway have no contract. The sticking point is $700,000 in purse money the track wants horsemen to surrender. The contract is critical to simulcast operations.

Both sides have agreed on a major point: Turfway intends to apply to race only three days of live racing per week in January and February 2010 given an anticipated shortage of horses and purse money for the customary five-day week.

The demise of racetrack video lottery terminal legislation in a Senate committee in June led Turfway president Bob Elliston to reiterate the track could close at the end of 2010. There is a good chance the legislation could be revisited before that time.

On Aug. 25 in a special election in northeastern Kentucky, Democratic Rep. Robin Webb, who voted for racetrack VLTs during the 2009 legislative special session, won a Senate seat previously held by a Republican. That leaves the GOP a slimmer 20-17 advantage in the Senate.

“Hopefully, with Robin Webb winning (the seat), they’ll see some light at the end of the tunnel,” Kentucky HBPA executive director Marty Maline said Aug. 26. “Hopefully we’ll get this (contract) resolved.”

Turfway president Bob Elliston said Aug. 27 he wouldn’t negotiate a contract in the press. As for the special election, he called it a “big win” by Webb that should send a message.

“It shows there is widespread support around the state for the gaming issue,” Elliston said. “(Webb) voted for a tough issue (in the House) and then won a race for a seat held by a Republican the past 18 years. I think this shows there isn’t a political consequence for supporting the signature industry in Kentucky.”

Maline said horsemen extended their contract for the current Ellis Park meet, and want to do the same for the Turfway meet. He said with VLTs, the picture would be different, and negotiations could proceed from that point.

“It’s so difficult to negotiate a contract when you don’t know where you are,” Maline said. “We’re by no means angry; we understand they’re in dire straits. But we have to look at it from the standpoint we’re in a battle with Hoosier Park, and we can’t afford to be cutting purses.”

Hoosier Park Racing & Casino in neighboring Indiana recently increased daily average purses to about $160,000 a day, $20,000 or so more than will be offered at Turfway. Maline said he has heard Hoosier Park is poised to increase purses yet again.

Ellis Park owner Ron Geary said he would announce his intentions for racing in 2010 after the current meet ends Sept. 7. A reduction in dates, agreed upon by horsemen, has led to fuller fields and a thus-far successful meet at the western Kentucky track.