Mountaineer Dispute Unresolved, But Racing to Return

Live racing is scheduled to return Feb. 4 to Mountaineer Race Track & Gaming Resort if track and weather conditions permit, though track management and the Mountaineer Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association remain at odds over aspects of their contract.

The HBPA said live racing was scheduled to return after it was canceled Feb. 3. In published reports, Harry Buch, who represents the Mountaineer HBPA, said management violated the state's rules of racing when it suspended live racing.

"The horsemen have to abide by the rules of racing, the jockeys have to abide by the rules of racing, and Mountaineer Park has to abide by the rules of racing," HBPA president Chuck Bailey said.

Horsemen said entries would be drawn Feb. 4 for the Feb. 8 program. Rose Mary Williams, director of racing at Mountaineer, said the racing office never suspended operations, and training continued as scheduled even though racing was canceled Feb. 3.

Mountaineer said it had canceled live racing until further notice in the wake of a lawsuit by the Mountaineer HBPA. The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Wheeling, W.Va., asked the court to issue a preliminary injunction prohibiting Mountaineer from "engaging in interstate off-track wagering" until it receives approval from the horsemen's group. Much of the track's handle is derived from export of its signal.

According to the suit, the Mountaineer HBPA granted the track permission to engage in interstate wagering from Jan. 1, 2001, through Dec. 31, 2003, with a provision that horsemen have the right to review the conditions 30 days prior to the end of a calendar year.

On Nov. 4, 2002, the HBPA said it sent management a letter asking to have the agreement amended. The amendment dealt with rescheduling of canceled racing days under a 250-day-a-year schedule.

The track is required by statute to offer a minimum of 210 days of racing. Mountaineer said it has fulfilled that requirement, and it called the horsemen's lawsuit "frivolous."

Management and horsemen did not agree on the amendment, so the suit says authorization for interstate wagering "became null and void" at the end of 2002. No extensions of the consent and authorization have been granted, the document says.

The track said it "has in place a simulcast agreement pertaining to simulcast issues. Mountaineer horsemen, however, are attempting to expand the scope of that agreement to dictate the number of racing days through use of the court system."

Mountaineer will continue to conduct live racing and simulcasting subject to track and weather conditions unless the Mountaineer HBPA's request for injunctive relief is granted. If the court were to enjoin simulcasting, Mountaineer would then re-evaluate whether to proceed with live racing.

The company said the dispute has no impact its ability to offer slot-machine gaming.