Is NTRA Poised to Bolster Membership Ranks?

With a voluntary program tied to stallion-season contributions set to expire, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association hopes new members -- some of them returnees -- are back in the fold for 2003.

NTRA officials said they expect to have a $400,000 surplus by the end of this year as projected. The challenge, they said, is to find more than $2 million that will be lost when the stallion-season program comes to an end.

Contributions from potential members would be in the "seven figure" range. Keith Chamblin, senior vice president of marketing and industry development for the NTRA, said about 10 organizations -- racetracks and horsemen's groups -- could return depending on how the negotiations progress.

The racetracks are Hawthorne Race Course, Oaklawn Park, and Tampa Bay Downs. The horsemen's associations are the Arkansas Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, the Minnesota HBPA, the Oregon HBPA, and the Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, which represents horsemen at Philadelphia Park.

In addition, New York City Off-Track Betting Corp. could rejoin, and a deal is in the works for a single membership for the California Authority of Racing Fairs, which has more than 20 live-racing and non-racing members.

"We're holding discussions with a number of racetracks and horsemen's groups," Chamblin said. "Nothing has been finalized at this point, but we're cautiously optimistic. Discussions are further along with some than with others. We're a membership organization, so we like to have the broadest participation possible."

Some members of CARF already belong to the NTRA. Chamblin said the package would be all-inclusive.

"We're talking about having a membership with CARF to allow all of its members to participate in NTRA programs," Chamblin said.

One of the obstacles has been the fact racetracks aren't members but their horsemen's groups are, or vice versa. For instance, horsemen's groups wouldn't benefit from the NTRA's cooperative advertising program if the tracks at which they race aren't members.

"It's very hard to quantify the benefits for horsemen when racetracks aren't members," Chamblin said.

A few examples are the Charles Town HBPA, which maintained its membership even though Penn National Gaming, which owns Charles Town Races, dropped out early in 2001; and the Arkansas HBPA, which was a member for a time even though Oaklawn Park was not. On the flip side, Mountaineer Park Race Track & Gaming Resort is a member, but the Mountaineer HBPA is not.

NTRA commissioner Tim Smith television and sponsorship revenue still trails expenses by $3 million to $4 million, but "if we stay on our current path, those lines will cross in two to three years."

Membership dues will not be increased in 2003.