Account Bets, Purse Schedule Key Issues at Mountaineer

Horsemen support a plan by Mountaineer Race Track & Gaming Resort to implement account wagering, but they're at odds with management over purse payments and have asked the West Virginia Racing Commission to mediate.

The West Virginia attorney general's office last year issued an opinion that account wagering was legal in the state, and said all interested racetracks must submit proposals to the racing commission for review. On Aug. 9, Mountaineer became the first track in the state to do so.

Rose Mary Williams, director of racing at Mountaineer, said the track plans to operate its own betting hub on site. At some point, Williams said the track would like to broadcast its races on local cable television in conjunction with wagering platforms.

"We've got to get the infrastructure and phone lines in place, but we plan to move as fast as possible," Williams said.

Wagers would be accepted players in from any state in which account wagering is legal. Mountaineer also plans to integrate account wagering into its player-tracking club now in use for horse racing and slot machines.

Williams said a little homework showed that people in Mountaineer's market use other account wagering services. "I told the racing commission the money is going off shore, so why not try to capture it in-state?" she said.

Charles Town Races, the state's other Thoroughbred track, has not submitted a plan to the racing commission, though representatives of the Charles Town Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association said they support account wagering. Charles Town is owned by Penn National Gaming, which operates account wagering services in neighboring Pennsylvania.

The Mountaineer HBPA supports the account wagering plan, but it has taken issue with the handling of the track's purse account. At one point early last year, the underpayment was about $3 million; now, it's about $400,000. Revenue from slot machines has helped put purses at Mountaineer into the $150,000-a-day range.

"The horsemen are vitally concerned about the fiscal responsibility of the handling of the purse account," Harry Buch, a lawyer who represents the Mountaineer HBPA, told the racing commission Aug. 9. "The way purses are going now, we're going to be back to where we were in the 1980s."

On Aug. 10, when the West Virginia Derby is run, about $1.2 million in purses will be paid. In September, though, Mountaineer will race four days a week instead of five, and that schedule traditionally has helped beef up the purse account.

Williams said horsemen agreed in May to move forward with the current purse structure, which has lured quality horses from out of the state and encouraged local trainers to upgrade their stock. Buch said HBPA leaders aren't advocating a purse cut, but he did suggest the track is carding too many races at the higher levels.

A similar situation developed earlier this year at Charles Town, where the HBPA pushed for and won changes in the condition book. Minor purse adjustments were made, but the big change came when the number of pricey allowance and claiming events were reduced on each program. The purse underpayment is back up to about $2 million at Charles Town.

"Horsemen have the right to come to us for a purse reduction or purse increase," Williams said. "We've been negotiating. I don't see where there is any issue here. I also don't see where it's the horsemen's right to tell us how to write a condition book, or which races to card. That's self-serving."

In other news, Charles Town has quietly made another condition-book change: There no longer will be races at 6 ½ furlongs or 1 1/16 miles. The racing surface at Charles Town is three-quarters of a mile in circumference, which means the run into the turns at those two distances is short.

All parties apparently agreed to make modifications. For now, at least, the standard distances at the track will be 4 ½ furlongs out of a chute, seven furlongs around two turns, and 1 1/8 miles around three turns.

Management and horsemen for years have discussed various proposals to change the circumference of the racing surface at Charles Town.