National HBPA Takes Stand on Simulcasts, Revenue

The National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, in an attempt to solidify revenue derived from pari-mutuel wagering, will soon release a comprehensive position paper that touches on everything from source-market fees to rebates.

The National HBPA board of directors, during a meeting Jan. 29 in Phoenix, Ariz., approved a motion authorizing the position paper, but it won't be released to the industry until the organization's general counsel reviews the language. National HBPA president John Roark called the document "one of the most important things we've done in years."

Though the board of directors did not release the position paper to the media pending the legal review, comments made during the board meeting and other meetings during the National HBPA winter convention indicated at least some of its contents.

The organization held a simulcasting workshop Jan. 28 to glean information and bring horsemen up to speed on how much control they currently have as to where signals and data are transmitted, and whether purses are getting their fair share. Clearly, money is falling through the cracks.

Roark, during the board of directors meeting, suggested that horsemen lost about $400 million in revenue in 2001 for a variety of reasons, including signal pirating, revenue splits that don't give horsemen a fair return, and wagering outlets that don't support live racing.

The Jan. 28 agreement between the New England HBPA, Rockingham Park, Suffolk Downs, and area Greyhound tracks was cited as key to the protection of horsemen's rights. Rockingham will switch to Standardbred racing this year, and Thoroughbred horsemen were successful in obtaining concessions in return for Rockingham's right to simulcast Thoroughbred races.

The dispute was headed to federal court but was resolved. Several HBPA affiliates pulled signals from the New Hampshire track to show their support for New England horsemen.

"There is a big message to the industry that came out of the Rockingham situation," Roark said. "I invite (wagering outlets) to take our signals under one condition -- that we get our fair share. No one wanted to shut off signals to Rockingham, but the industry doesn't understand that. Shutting off a signal is a last resort. They tested our resolve, and it didn't come out wanting."

Roark indicated the position paper deals with issues such as source-market fees paid by the TV Games Network and other account-wagering providers, and the practice of rebating. He withheld specifics but said the National HBPA wasn't planning to blast anyone.

Roark said meetings with Kirk Brooks, who heads Racing and Gaming Services, changed his mind about rebates. Other companies such as Darwin All Sports, an Australian concern, have chosen not to partner with horsemen, he said.

"We don't mind them rebating if we're getting our fair share," Roark said. "Not a share, but our fair share."

Roark said he already has had meetings with racetracks he wouldn't name to get their support for the position paper. He said it should be ready for release well before Feb. 15.

"We have a position with which we can go back to the tracks and horsemen on where the National HBPA stands to protect our product," Roark said.

Also on the issue of simulcasting, Robert Reeves of the Ohio HBPA presented a position paper that calls for changes in how Ohio divvies up revenue from simulcasts. Reeves said that in 2001, Thoroughbred simulcasts provided more than $44 million to Standardbred purses.

The Ohio HBPA has proposed, in effect, that revenue generated on wagers on Thoroughbred racing stay in the Thoroughbred industry. Beulah Park already cut purses for its current meet, Thistledown plans a 3% reduction when it opens this year, and River Downs has repeatedly said its purses would jump by 30% if it was permitted to keep revenue generated at its facility.

"Ohio Thoroughbred racing is in a financial crisis, and things are bordering on desperate," Reeves said. "In the next few months, we plan to pursue a better deal in Ohio. Our purpose is to increase your awarness. We're not looking for any action (from the National HBPA) at the current time."

In other business, the board approved a dues increase over the next several years. The amount affiliates pay to the National HBPA varies, but the new schedule will bring the total from $282,000 in 2002 to $400,000 by 2006. Dues range from $30,000 a year at the top to $1,200 at the bottom.