Regulators to Hear Arguments in 'Battle of Indianapolis'

By James Platz

The Indiana Horse Racing Commission will hear arguments May 22 for and against granting Indiana Downs permission to build an Indianapolis off-track betting facility.

Indiana Downs is asking for what they have previously called a "level playing field," while Hoosier Park will argue that a Marion County OTB parlor will hurt business not only at its Indianapolis Trackside OTB location, but also on track.

When Indiana Downs was granted a permit in 2001, it accepted the permit with conditions. One of those conditions called for the permission of an Indianapolis off-track facility only if the General Assembly passed pull-tab, or video lottery terminal, legislation.

Officials at the Shelbyville track are now asking for a rehearing in the hope the condition in question can be amended. At previous meetings, attorneys for Indiana Downs have pleaded with commissioners to allow them the opportunity to operate a parlor in the state's largest market.

Hoosier Park officials contend another Indianapolis OTB facility wouldn't generate new business. They said it would instead siphon existing business from Indianapolis Trackside.

Because of a change in the formula that divvies up a subsidy from riverboat casinos in the state, Indiana Downs officials said they are at a disadvantage. The handle from a satellite wagering facility in the state's largest city could increase handle and help the track compete for the subsidy.

"The pie is only so big," Hoosier Park president and general manager Rick Moore said. "It's a niche product we provide. Any business by a new OTB would be taking directly from Trackside and Hoosier Park. You would just be splitting the pie."

Moore said industry experts have already predicted the impact on Hoosier Park, predictions that have already come to fruition. During Indiana Downs' permit hearings in 2001, Will Cummings, anindustry consultant, outlined the impact a second track would have on Hoosier Park. Cummings said Indiana Downs would trigger an 18% reduction in average daily handle at both Hoosier Park and Trackside Indianapolis. Moore said handle at both locations is down 20% this year.

An Indianapolis OTB parlor could be even more devastating to the facilities, majority owner of which is Churchill Downs Inc. Moore said Cummings' estimates pegged a 41% reduction in handle at Trackside Indianapolis, and an 8% dip at Hoosier Park.

"Those are drastic, drastic numbers," Moore said.