Ohio Horsemen Say Handle Bump Did Little for Purses

On the heels of an announcement by Beulah Park officials that the track's winter/spring meet produced an all-time record handle, the Ohio Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association claims the success did little for purses.

Total handle on the live product was up 34% from the corresponding meet in 2005, while daily average purses were $50,473, up only 5.6% from last year.

"The recently concluded winter/spring meet at Beulah Park was disappointing for horsemen even though total handle was up," Ohio HBPA executive director Dan Theno said in a May 23 release. "The results clearly illustrate the phenomena of 'handle up, purses down' that has plagued the Thoroughbred racing sport for the past several years."

Bob Reeves, chairman of the Ohio HBPA purses and wagering committee and an industry watchdog on handle revenue to purses, acknowledged the Grove City, Ohio, track did a great job of increasing total handle by $28.6 million. But he said on-track handle on live and simulcast races declined by more than $1.6 million, or 7.3%, from last season.

Reeves said Beulah purses receive 8% from on-track bets and 1% from out-of-state handle, and that horsemen received nothing from the $5.7 million wagered on Beulah races at in-state tracks. Reeves also said that, according to The Jockey Club, Beulah's on-track handle was only 4.1% of total handle, below the national average of 12%.

Beulah Park vice president and general manager Mike Weiss said the growth in off-track handle actually did help the purse account.

"With our export up that much, we were able to put an additional $1 million into purses," Weiss said. "We're clearly surviving, but without it, where would we have been?"

The Ohio HBPA and other horsemen's groups around the country have repeatedly expressed concern over declining revenue from handle. They have targeted account wagering, both domestic and offshore, and the amount of money paid for signals by betting outlets.

Beulah heavily promotes its Winticket.com wagering portal, which falls under AmericaTAB, the account wagering service of which Beulah is a major owner.

"The whole pricing system in racing is out of whack," Ohio HBPA president Jim Yaegel said in the release. "The gap between expenses and purses continues to widen for Thoroughbred owners and trainers. Unless the industry faces this problem, Thoroughbred racing will continue to suffer.

"Nationally, the racing fan base and total wagering is up. That, however, isn't filtering back to Thoroughbred owners and trainers in the form of higher purses. Without them getting a fair return on their investment in the form of increased purses, the whole system will collapse."

National HBPA affiliates in other states, as well as the Thoroughbred Owners of California, are examining the revenue-from-handle structure in the pari-mutuel industry.