River Downs: Purse Pool Has Cost Track $9M

As the Ohio Thoroughbred racing season gets in full swing for 2002, a racetrack operator has renewed his call for changes in the law that governs full-card simulcasting in the state.

In his annual letter to horsemen, River Downs general manager Jack Hanessian said the Cincinnati-area track has lost almost $9 million since 1996 under a common-pool formula that doles out dark-day simulcasting revenue at Ohio's seven tracks.

According to figures in Hanessian's letter, River Downs contributed $20.7 million to the pool from September 1996 to January 2002, but only got back $11.8 million. If River Downs kept all revenue from on-site handle on dark days, purses would go up by 30 percent, Hanessian said.

"River Downs continues its effort to change the formula so that purse money earned at a track stays at the track," Hanessian said. "To become effective, such a change must be approved by the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, Ohio Harness Horsemen's Association, and all racetracks."

The figures show that two Standardbred tracks -- Lebanon Raceway and Raceway Park -- lost $4.9 million and $4 million in purse money, respectively, during the period from 1996-2002. The benefactors from the common pool were Northfield Park ($7.4 million), Scioto Downs ($4.88 million), Thistledown ($4.75 million), and Beulah Park ($1.89 million).

River Downs, Lebanon Raceway, and Raceway Park are parties in a suit that challenged the law.

River Downs opens April 13. After a few weeks in the "7 & 7" program with Beulah Park, River Downs will offer an independent live program. Thistledown near Cleveland opened March 29 with an independent program, and treated the Beulah Park program like any other track it simulcasts.

For almost 10 years, two Ohio tracks have paired their races to present one program. The "7 & 7" was designed for the days before full-card simulcasting, but the program worked well for the state given its horse population and the fact at least two tracks usually race at the same time.

Thistledown's opening weekend was a success. The March 29 handle of $685,887 (money wagered on eight live races on track) compared favorably with the $639,541 wagered on opening day of 2001. Total attendance for March 29-30 was 9,680 (the track wasn't open Easter Sunday).

Meanwhile, Beulah Park near Columbus continues to offer nine races a day. River Downs has not yet announced how many live races it plans to offer during its six-day racing weeks.