Philly Park, Jockeys Strike Deal on Accident Insurance

After negotiations that lasted for nearly 10 months and until recently were at a stalemate, Philadelphia Park Racetrack & Casino management and Philadelphia Park Jockeys have finally agreed to a deal to increase on-track accident insurance for riders to $500,000.

The pact was confirmed Feb. 3 by Philadelphia Park Jockeys president Anthony Black and Delaware Jockey Association director Robert Colton, who was instrumental in helping the two sides reestablish communications after talks had broken off. It went into effect at 12:01 a.m. EST Feb. 3.

Prior to the deal, riders at Philly Park had an insurance policy of only $100,000, thought to be the lowest of any major racetrack in the country. According the Black and Colton, racetrack management will pay the entire cost of the premium.

"I was in the jocks' room (Feb. 3)," said Black, who was responsible for forming Philadelphia Park Jockeys last April. "Most were ecstatic, some were in disbelief, and all of them were proud that we were able to get this done. This is a great first step of trying to get jockeys full benefits and additional health insurance. We will take one step at a time and keep working to get what we deserve."

Philly Park chief executive officer Hal Handel said management is "happy to have it resolved. It seems to be beneficial for both sides, and it's nice to have an open line of communication."

Handel said Philly Park stands by its contention that jockeys are independent contractors.

"It was not so much a change of thinking," he said. "We're taking the position that all jockeys are independent contractors. Our agreement specifically outlines that fact, but we recognize a need. We were the best funding source. It's a good first step for everyone involved."

Colton, who also played a big part in helping jockeys obtain increased benefits at Delaware Park, began negotiating with Philly Park management in January. He is hopeful that when all negotiations are completed, riders at Philly Park will have the most comprehensive health and benefits plan in the nation.

"This is the first of hopefully a few more steps," said Colton, a former Philly Park jockey who retired several years ago. "We are working on some additional programs that could possibly triple the insurance coverage to $1.5 million. That would take us from the lowest in the nation to hopefully the highest. We still have some work to do.

"I would like to give many accolades to Hal Handel. I can't say enough about how hard he pushed to make this happen. We went in there careful not to demand anything and just acting in the best interest of the jockeys. I think both parties shared responsibilities."

Colton said timing and revenue from slot machines were big factors in the helping the deal get finalized. In addition to hopefully increasing the on-track accident insurance even more, Colton is negotiating temporary disability benefits for riders. He is confident a deal on that can be finalized in the coming weeks. Even further down the line, Colton is hopeful jockeys will have full health-care benefits.

Philly Park began operating its slots casino in December. In January, purses were increased to about $175,000 a day.