National HBPA to Take Hard Look at Betting Hub Plan

The National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association's Executive Committee will decide Feb. 3 whether to move forward with a plan to create an offshore wagering hub that would accept wagers from bettors outside the United States in an attempt to increase handle and generate revenue for purses.

The hub, which would be operated in partnership with one or more companies, was first discussed during the National HBPA's summer convention in 2003. The particulars probably won't be released until the full National HBPA board meets Feb. 4 on the final day of its winter convention in New Orleans. The board could take action during the meeting.

National HBPA president John Roark said the objective is to capture money wagered on U.S. races at foreign outlets that don't return revenue to purses. He said there are about 1,700 such outlets in the Caribbean, Mexico, and South America, and thousands more in the South Pacific.

The hub wouldn't take wagers from U.S. residents, nor would the company offer rebates, Roark said. A percentage of the revenue from handle would go to local government as an incentive to shut down illegal bookmakers, he said during a Feb. 2 panel discussion.

On another note, Roark said the National HBPA eventually would take an official position on issues such as rebating, but for now, his personal opinion is it would be foolish to dismiss rebate shops given the amount of handle they produce. For example, Roark said about 120 people who have accounts with Racing and Gaming Services pumped $570 million into U.S. pools in 2003.

Roark said he spoke with some high-end players -- about $20 million to $40 million a year -- in an attempt to develop a profile. He said they're basically "day traders," and if the already narrow profit margins shrink, they could very well move on to something else. Roark said one individual who used to bet about $5 million a year in New York now gets a 7% rebate from a company and wagers $20 million outside the state.

"Do we really want to tell him we don't want your (money) because you're getting a rebate?" Roark said.

The hub plan hasn't generated much public discussion from affiliates during the convention, though a member of one horsemen's association said he believes domestic problems that center around account wagering, pricing, and purses should be addressed before horsemen tackle offshore issues.

During another panel discussion, HBPA affiliates from Florida, Louisiana, and Texas explained how a new horsemen's bookkeeping system has allowed horsemen to better track purse accounts and payments and put them in charge of their own money. The fiscal responsibility used to fall with the tracks, which some horsemen said weren't exactly fiscally responsible with other people's money.

The system now in use in most jurisdictions was created by InCompass Solutions, a division of The Jockey Club. David Ruffra, executive vice president of InCompass, noted the system is in use at tracks that account for 75% of live racing dates, 90% of total handle, and 90% of total purse money in the U.S.

Marsha Roundtree, who oversees finances for the Texas Horsemen's Partnership, said the central bookkeeping system allows horsemen to track all finances on a daily basis and access their accounts at any track in the state in a manner similar to "branch banking." In the future, that capability may cross state lines and be a huge assistance to horsemen who participate in multiple jurisdictions.

"I would urge everyone to (adopt the system)," Florida HBPA executive director Kent Stirling said. "The golden rule applies here: He who has the gold rules."