Indiana, Kentucky at Odds Over Import of Signals

by James Platz

Indiana Downs has once again asked the Indiana Horse Racing Commission to consider a proposal that could ban Kentucky signals from the state's wagering network.

Indiana Downs will open a second satellite wagering facility in Clarksville near Louisville, Ky., in late March, but has been denied access to the Kentucky signal. Track management asked racing commissioners to consider the proposal during a March 4 hearing.

It isn't the first time Indiana Downs has asked the commissoin to entertain such a move. After unsuccessful negotiations last year with the Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association to import the Kentucky signal into its Evansville off-track betting parlor, Indiana Downs asked for a ban on the signal at all outlets in an attempt to encourage further negotiations. The commission wouldn't do so.

"We feel like it's a step we have to take," Indiana Downs general manager Jon Schuster said last year. "It's not our desire to knock the signal out of the state, but to convince the horsemen to negotiate."

Without the lucrative Kentucky signal, Indiana Downs officials said they can't compete with Kentucky tracks. Indiana Downs projected average daily live handle of $88,333 last year, but only generated $36,340. Simulcast handle was projected to be $74,380, but only $40,407 was generated each day.

The Evansville OTB parlor has met projections but hasn't exceeded them. The Clarksville OTB parlor, with the Kentucky signal, could significantly help the track generate purse money.

Hoosier Park officials argue that banning the signal entirely from the state will hurt business, which will in turn impact Indiana's horsemen. Hoosier Park's majority owner is Churchill Downs Inc., which operates live and simulcast operations just across the Ohio River from Clarksville.

"If the Kentucky signal is pulled, there is little doubt our patrons in Merrillville will drive a half-hour to see some of the best races in the country in Illinois," Hoosier Park attorney Bill Diener told the racing commission.

Last year, $1,982,841 was handled on the Kentucky Derby program at Hoosier Park and its three OTB parlors in Merrillville, Fort Wayne, and Indianapolis.

Kentucky HBPA executive director Marty Maline told the commission that exporting signals to the Clarksville OTB parlor would result in a decrease in business at Churchill or the Trackside OTB facility by 15% to 20%. He said the loss of business would translate into a purse reduction of $1.2 million a year.