Horsemen Wary of Racetrack Cooperatives

The National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association is expected to call on all horsemen's associations to join forces to protect their rights under the Interstate Horseracing Act of 1978, and to guard against actions by racetracks that have formed cooperatives to gain clout in the simulcasting marketplace.

The issue was raised Monday during the National HBPA's information and technology committee meeting. Spokesman Bill Walmsley said he intended to bring it before the full National HBPA board during its meeting Tuesday in San Antonio, Texas.

"We need a national horsemen's alliance," Walmsley said. "I don't see any way it can get done without a joint venture of horsemen. If we don't do it, we're going to get killed by cooperatives."

Walmsley said there are common issues horsemen's associations can work on without stepping on each other's toes.

The Mid-Atlantic tracks, both Thoroughbred and Standardbred, formed a cooperative to negotiate simulcasting rates, among other things. Another cooperative, headed by Sam Houston Race Park, includes tracks in the southwest and West Coast. Both cooperatives were successful in securing favorable rates when the New York Racing Association attempted to increase its fees.

In December, several horsemen's groups pulled signals from Garden State Park in New Jersey because it appeared the track would not hold a live Thoroughbred meet in 2001, and all simulcast revenue would be used for Standardbred purses. The track eventually was granted dates, but not before the Mid-Atlantic Cooperative said that if Garden State didn't get signals, no tracks in the region would take them.

A Turfway Park official said at the time such a blackout could cost the track about 20% of its total handle.

"The cooperatives are putting a lot of pressure on us and the racetracks," said Marty Maline, executive director of the Kentucky HBPA. "It appears to me to be an absolute anti-trust violation."

National HBPA president Rick Hiles said the cooperative attempted to weaken the Interstate Horseracing Act, which gives horsemen power over where signals are sent. Officials indicated some behind-the-scenes legal work is being done to ensure the law is protected.

The National HBPA also unveiled its copyrighted publication "North American Gaming Facilities Locations," which was prepared by Sandy Erreguin on behalf of the organization. Believed to be the only publication of its kind, it lists all wagering outlets--even Indian casinos and off-track betting facilities located in bars--state by state, and includes maps that show which ones are within 60 miles of a live racing facility.

Erreguin said the book will be updated regularly because new wagering outlets continue to pop up. The HBPA intends to give a copy to each of its affiliates, and market the publication to the rest of the pari-mutuel industry.