Philly Park, Horsemen Strike One-Year Deal

by Linda Dougherty and Tom LaMarra

Horsemen and management at Philadelphia Park came to terms on a live racing agreement Dec. 30 and averted a shutdown of live racing and simulcasting at the Pennsylvania track.

The settlement, which amounts to an extension of the existing agreement, expires Dec. 31, 2003. Greenwood Racing, which owns the track, wanted the Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association to sign a multi-year contract, but the parties agreed on a one-year deal by which horsemen will continue to receive 31% of all wagering revenues.

The extension has language similar to that contained in five-year contract that expired Dec. 31, 2002. The goal is to maximize revenue for both sides.

"We have made that obligation to them, and they have made that obligation to us," said Hal Handel, chief executive officer of Greenwood. "It's the classic good deal. No one got exactly what they wanted."

Horsemen expressed concern over protection of revenues from all wagering sources, and that concern remains even with the extension. Mike Ballezzi, executive director of the PTHA, said talks would continue to resolve issues for future contracts.

"We agreed to a one-year extension, and I'm happy with that," Ballezzi said. "But, obviously, everything we've talked about is still up in the air. There will probably be a slots bill this spring, so we'll have to talk about that as well. This is just the first tiny step."

The live racing agreement calls for the racing association to maximize fees, receipts, and revenue from live racing, simulcasting, and account wagering. The PTHA is concerned about Greenwood's account wagering operation that has its hub in Oregon. (Greenwood continues to operate PhoneBet in Pennsylvania.)

For the third quarter of 2002, handled $33.9 million. Protection of revenue from hubs located in other jurisdictions is of concern to the PTHA.

Greenwood said the PTHA threw its support behind plans for Chester Downs, a Standardbred track in Chester County that would be in direct competition with Seaport Park, a Thoroughbred track sought by Greenwood in the same area. Neither license application has been approved.

On the subject of Seaport Park, Ballezzi said horsemen believe the plan is not acceptable because the facility would have a five-eighths-mile track, no turf course, and no barn area. In addition, Seaport would race June through August using dates that normally would be run at Philly Park, Ballezzi said.

He also said the PTHA supports the Chester Downs project because the principals already have a live racing agreement in place, and have agreed to a fair split of any gaming revenue should racetrack slot machines be legalized.

The settlement came one day before the potential shutdown of Philadelphia Park and its six Turf Clubs in southeast Pennsylvania. On Dec. 18, Handel sent a letter to the PTHA telling it that, unless a new contract was in place, live racing would cease and the backstretch would be vacated by Jan. 6.