Horsemen Call for Solidarity by Kentucky Industry

Having reached an agreement with racetracks on revenue splits, Kentucky horsemen's associations are rallying the troops, so to speak, in an effort to win approval for video lottery terminals at the state's tracks.

The legislation is currently being drafted, said Alex Rankin, president of the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association and Kentucky Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders. In a Jan. 29 letter to the membership, Rankin said: "It is now time to join as an industry -- breeders, owners, trainers and racetracks -- to speak with one voice. This occurrence has been rare in past years. Through this new cooperation, we may have the chance to make positive long-term changes that will strengthen every aspect of our industry."

Rankin said the Kentucky plan, which calls for track-based VLTs controlled by the racing industry, was reviewed by Woodbine Entertainment president David Wilmot, who called it positive. Woodbine and other tracks in Ontario, Canada, have had success integrating slot machines with horse racing.

Though officials won't discuss details until the legislation is completed, Rankin mentioned the "pooling" of VLT revenue "in order than purses may be shared within the Kentucky circuit to maximize our racing product." Purse revenue would grow as the net win increases and operating expenses decrease, he said.

Marty Maline, executive director of the Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, said some details remain to be worked out, but he used Kentucky Downs as an example of why revenues would be pooled. The all-turf track races only seven days a year and is located in perhaps the most lucrative VLT market: on the border of Tennessee, which doesn't even have a lottery.

"It's projected that Kentucky Downs would provide tremendous revenue, but it only races seven days a year," Maline said. "Therefore, it was determined reallocation of those revenues would serve the industry much better."

Kentucky Downs is owned in part by other Kentucky racing associations.

A 1996 law that authorized full-card simulcasting in Ohio mandates the pooling of revenue from wagers made on dark-day simulcasts at the state's seven tracks. Three of the tracks filed a lawsuit last year claiming the division of revenue is unfair, and that each association should keep the money it generates for local purses.

The Ohio tracks don't share common ownership, though a few are partners in an account wagering service.

In his letter, Rankin noted that the KTA and Kentucky HBPA worked together in negotiations, and specifically credited Kentucky HBPA president Dr. Alex Harthill for his leadership. The two groups haven't always seen eye-to-eye on issues, including medication.

The Kentucky HBPA is the sole negotiator for horsemen at Ellis Park, Kentucky Downs, and Turfway Park, and the majority negotiator at Churchill Downs. At Keeneland, the HBPA and KTA have a 50-50 split.

Maline said horsemen are on the same page. "I believe our efforts to obtain alternative gaming can now move forward," he said.

In Kentucky, simulcasting rights are tied to live racing dates. Maline said that in order to have VLTs, tracks must race a certain amount of days. (If a bill were to pass this year, the standard would be the amount raced in 2001.)

Horsemen who race in Kentucky year-round have been particularly concerned about the potential loss of racing dates at Turfway, which races about 110 days a year, mostly in the bad-weather months. Turfway occupies about five months on the local racing calendar each year.