Dispute Between Mountaineer, Horsemen Turns Ugly

The dispute between horsemen and management at Mountaineer Race Track & Gaming Resort escalated Jan. 5 when both parties accused the other of negotiating in bad faith.

The contract between the West Virginia track and the Mountaineer Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association expired Dec. 31, and live racing and on-track simulcasting were halted Jan. 1. Four programs--Jan. 3-6--were lost to the dispute, with live racing set to resume Jan. 19 if a contract is in place.

The HBPA wants the track to agree in writing to offer 232 days of racing with 10-race programs. From Jan. 11-Dec. 30, 2003, Mountaineer raced 222 days. The track applied for 210 days of racing this year, some with nine-race programs. In order to operate video lottery terminals, Mountaineer must offer 220 racing days a year.

In a Jan. 5 release, Mountaineer president Ted Arneault said HBPA president Chuck Bailey, in a Jan. 4 memo, threatened to contact the national media and legislators in West Virginia, Ohio, and Pennsylvania to make all parties aware of the dispute. Arneault also said HBPA executive director Lora Bailey made a verbal threat to kill legislation to authorize table games at the racino if the demands weren't met.

Chuck Bailey wasn't available for comment the afternoon of Jan. 5, but Lora Bailey said the memo was sent as a courtesy, not a threat. She acknowledged making a comment about table games but again said it wasn't a threat.

The HBPA believes it is the track that's using "strong arm" tactics by implementing an $8-per-stall fee for all horses on the grounds in order for training to continue. (Stall rent isn't charged at the track under the usual contract with horsemen.) Any trainer who didn't pay as of 8 p.m. EST Jan. 5 would be required to vacate the property.

The HBPA has called it eviction, while management has said it is protecting itself against liability in the event of an accident.

"They've put horsemen in a position where if they don't pay the stall rent, they have to remove their horses," Lora Bailey said. "These people are scared to death they're going to lose their stalls. They're not negotiating in good faith if they do this while we negotiate."

In the release, Arneault said: "The leadership of the HBPA has lost sight of the purpose of contract negotiations, which is to resolve the differing issues. An attempt to force management to acquiesce to their demands based upon threats of retribution demonstrates a failure to negotiate in good faith."

Management said trainers and owners associated with 80% of the horses on the grounds had signed the agreement that requires stall fees. Bailey said she didn't know how many trainers had paid the fees.

The HBPA will hold a general membership meeting Jan. 7 should the impasse continue. Meanwhile, lawyers for both sides were scheduled to meet Jan. 6.

"Ted Arneault has made statements to the media that we're close on negotiations, and we aren't close on negotiations," Bailey said. "We're hoping to be a lot closer (after the lawyers meet Jan. 6)."

Arneault said Mountaineer "would make every effort to work toward resolution of the contract dispute" so racing could resume.

The racing product at Mountaineer, once home to $1,500 claimers that raced for less than $2,000 a race, has become big business. The track now handles almost $2 million a night on its product, while total purses for 2003 approached $39 million, one of the highest outlays in the country. The average purse per race last year was $17,765 even though most programs featured at least four races for $4,000 claimers.