River Downs

River Downs

Christine A. Wittmer

Judge Rules for Ohio HBPA in Lawsuit

Judge rules in favor of Ohio HBPA in lawsuit.

(Edited press release)

United States District Court Judge Michael Watson granted the Ohio Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association’s motion for partial judgment on the pleadings in its lawsuit versus the Ohio State Racing Commission, Beulah Park, River Downs, Chester Downs, and others.

In a ruling filed Sept. 23, Judge Watson ruled that the Interstate Horseracing Act preempts the Ohio Revised Code section 3769.089(G). The ruling also found Chester Downs in violation of the IHA and reserved the determination of damages against Chester Downs for a later date.

The rulings stemmed from a lawsuit filed by the Ohio HBPA in January 2007. The lawsuit was filed after the Ohio HBPA had denied its consent for Beulah Park to export the Beulah signal to Chester Downs pending an increase in the requested host fee rate from 3% to 5%.

Beulah Park and River Downs challenged the denial of the Ohio HBPA using an Ohio law that allowed a permit holder to appeal to the Ohio State Racing Commission. Under the Ohio law, the racing commission could overrule denial by a horsemen’s group if it found that the horsemen withheld permission to export simulcast signals by a track “unreasonably.” In December 2006, the Ohio State Racing Commission sided with Beulah Park and River Downs and overruled the Ohio HBPA’s denial of consent.

In January, 2007 Beulah Park began exporting its signal to Chester Downs after which the Ohio HBPA filed suit.

“Judge Watson’s well crafted opinion validates our organization’s opinion that the Ohio statute used by the racetracks to deny horsemen’s consent was unconstitutional,” said Dave Basler, executive director of the Ohio HBPA.

Attorney Douglas McSwain, who represented the Ohio HBPA, added, “Judge Watson’s ruling is a significant victory for horsemen’s rights. Neither a racing commission nor a racetrack has the authority to overrule horsemen if they withhold consent to interstate simulcast betting.

“Congress intended for horsemen to be co-equal partners with host racetracks and racing commissions in the decision whether to allow interstate simulcast betting, and if so, at what price and under what terms and conditions. Unfortunately, in some states like Ohio, laws have been adopted that try to curb the horsemen’s right to veto interstate simulcast betting.”

Ohio HBPA executive vice president Bob Reeves, who is also president of the Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Group, said the opinion will “serve as a guideline for those organizations as to the proper exercise of their rights guaranteed under the IHA.”