Breed Splits at Root of Ohio Account-Bet Battle

Racetracks and Thoroughbred horsemen in Ohio remain in a stalemate that has removed the River Downs live signal from all account-wagering services, including one in which the track has ownership.

The Ohio Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, in an Aug. 24 press release, said failure to strike a deal with two Ohio tracks on source-market fees through the TV Games Network "appears to be the only major stumbling block" to an overall agreement on account wagering.

"A proposal from Beulah Park and River Downs to cut purse contributions from TVG source-market fees is the stumbling block," Ohio HBPA executive director Dan Theno said in the release. "Without an agreement on TVG, the two tracks have said they are not interested in any agreement concerning exports to other advance deposit wagering outlets."

Beulah Park and River Downs are the majority owners of AmericaTAB, the account wagering service with an Oregon hub. Beulah Park owner Charlie Ruma said TVG source-market fees are set by contract with all seven Ohio racetracks--three Thoroughbred and four Standardbred--and therefore aren't the issue.

"The Thoroughbred horsemen have said they made a bad deal in 1996 when the Ohio simulcast law was put together," Ruma said. "At that time, they joined hands and said all horsemen love each other. I said to them, 'You guys are giving away the shop.' Well, they finally realize they made a bad deal.

"The whole issue of source-market fees is to reimburse racetracks on wagers made in their market area. They have nothing to do with breed."

The 1996 law created a purse pool for dark-day simulcast revenue. Percentages were predicated on the number of live racing dates, and that formula has shifted millions of dollars to tracks with more live dates. The Ohio HBPA contends Thoroughbred purse money is going to support Standardbred racing.

The Ohio HBPA contends that last year, 53% of TVG source-market fees went to harness interests in the state. The 47% paid to Thoroughbred tracks was further split 75% to purses and 25% to tracks.

Horsemen said Beulah Park and River Downs proposed to reduce the TVG purse contribution to 50% and wouldn't consider negotiating a split of the fees by breed.

"We could go along with a 50% purse contribution if harness purses didn't receive 53% of the fees off the top before the Thoroughbred tracks receive their portion," Theno said. "Over 80% of betting through advance deposit wagering is on Thoroughbred products, yet purses at Ohio harness tracks get 53% of the money. That simply is not equitable."

Ruma said TVG is blameless and merely living up to its contract. "TVG has a deal with all Ohio tracks and has been diligent in paying what it said it would pay," he said. "Don't put the finger on TVG."

Ruma contends the Ohio HBPA could have doubled purses this year if it had agreed to a deal in place in 2004. After a few extensions, the two parties reached a stalemate Aug. 15, and the River Downs signal was removed from account-wagering services. The Interstate Horseracing Act mandates that horsemen be party to such agreements.

Without a deal, the Beulah Park signal won't be available to account wagering companies when it opens in September.

"It's no big deal," Ruma said. "Quite frankly, AmericaTAB had a record weekend last weekend without the Ohio signal. It only accounts for about 2% of our total. There's better product elsewhere. Our players will start betting other tracks and forget about Ohio."

The Ohio HBPA said Thoroughbred purses would lose one-third of TVG source-market fee contributions under the proposal by Beulah Park and River Downs. Were source-market fees awarded by breed, Ohio Thoroughbred racing's share would increase by 70%, the HBPA contends.