Beulah Owner Questions TOC, Calls for Purse Cut

The owner of Beulah Park is questioning why the Thoroughbred Owners of California has pulled the state’s simulcast signal from the Ohio racetrack, and also said management has ordered a 20% purse cut because of the projected revenue hit.

The TOC said it is acting in support of the Ohio Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association under the Interstate Horseracing Act of 1978. The Ohio horsemen are challenging in federal court the Ohio State Racing Commission’s decision to overrule the blocking of the signal by Beulah Park to Harrah’s Chester Downs, a Standardbred track and slot-machine facility in Pennsylvania. The Ohio HBPA contends it has control of the interstate transmission of the signal and the racing commission acted beyond its scope.

The Ohio horsemen seek a United States District Court for Southern Ohio decision overruling the racing commission, which found in favor of Beulah Park and River Downs in their effort to allow Harrah’s Chester Downs to receive its signals in exchange for a 3% host fee. The Ohio HBPA wanted 5% and denied consent, which prompted the tracks to appeal to the commission.

“How stupid can it be?” Beulah Park owner Charlie Ruma said Feb. 19. “Here’s a real significant fact: The Ohio Revised Code says if somebody is being unreasonable, we can go to the racing commission to make the determination. We did that. We have an agreement with horsemen that we will abide by the Ohio Revised Code. Have they now forgotten that obligation?

“I’m not disputing federal law. Federal law applies, but we also have an agreement with horsemen that needs to be adhered to.”

The Ohio HBPA lawsuit could have ramifications for other states. It seeks damages for lost revenue and compensation for attorneys’ fees, and also broaches the subject of “freedom to contract,” National HBPA attorney Doug McSwain said in a recent presentation during the organization’s winter convention.

“Horsemen have, in any legal opinion, the property interest in racing,” McSwain said. “We have a freedom-liberty interest under the U.S. Constitution. We shouldn’t have to answer for our decision as a consent right.”

The TOC said horsemen’s control of racing’s simulcast signal “is a fundamental principle” that must be protected. The TOC plans to file a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of the Ohio HBPA in the lawsuit.

Ruma said if Beulah Park handles $200,000 a day on track, the California signals, currently Bay Meadows and Santa Anita Park, account for about $50,000. Statewide California Thoroughbred handle, however, could approach $200,000 a day, he said.

Under the 1996 law that authorized full-card interstate simulcasts in Ohio, all racetracks in the state must have access to incoming signals. Therefore, no track or off-track betting parlor in Ohio can receive the California signals through the end of the Beulah Park meet May 5.

“We’re not disputing federal law,” Ruma said. “But it’s time for Beulah Park and the rest of the industry to say, ‘Stop your shenanigans, California.’ California is sticking its fat nose into somebody else’s business. It’s time to tell California to stuff it.”

In announcing the decision to pull signals effective Feb. 20, TOC president Drew Couto said though working with track partners to maximize purse and operational revenue is a primary business objective, “there are instances when one must place ahead of the quest for personal financial gain the unavoidable need to protect principles fundamental to the long-term best interests of the sport and industry.”

Harrah’s Chester Downs stopped taking the Beulah Park signal a few days after the Ohio HBPA lawsuit was filed in January. Ruma contends it should have ended there.

“This is going to be a serious situation,” said Ruma, who noted Beulah Park is part of the Southern Cooperative, a group of racetracks that negotiate rates paid for signals. “It’s time for every track to stand behind us and say, ‘You’ve got to be kidding. This is a private agreement (between a track and horsemen’s group.)’

“The California market will be shut down in Ohio. Who is that going to hurt? It’s going to hurt the horsemen. We’ve already ordered a 20% cut in purses. We don’t know how far this is going to go, and I’m not going to take a risk on purses anymore. They’re overpaid anyway.”

Ruma suggested the situation with Harrah’s Chester Downs is a red herring because of the minimal impact on revenue through handle on Beulah Park races.

“We in all good consciousness should do business with them,” he said. “Do you think the Beulah Park signal is worth more than 3%? Do you think bettors in Chester give a rat’s (bleep) about Beulah’s signal? It’s like water off a duck’s back.”

Through 26 days of live racing this year, purses at Beulah Park have averaged $46,650. A 20% reduction amounts to more than $9,000 per program.

Beulah Park general manager Mike Weiss said to his knowledge, Beulah Park-owned AmericaTab, an account wagering service that hubs through Oregon and has other racetrack partners as owners, isn’t impacted by the TOC action on California signals.