Having failed to renew an agreement that has kept them from competing against each other for simulcasting dollars, two Ohio racetracks located only five miles apart seem poised to go head-to-head in 2001 in a battle that could prove bloody.
Beulah Park and Scioto Downs, a Standardbred track, are located south of Columbus. Under a deal first struck in 1996, each track is open for simulcasting only when it races live—Beulah from mid-September to early May, and Scioto from early May to mid-September.
But Ed Ryan, general manager at Scioto, told the Ohio State Racing Commission Wednesday that compensation it receives from Beulah during the 7 1/2 months it’s closed—roughly $130,000—doesn’t cut it anymore. He said the harness track is facing a net loss of $600,000 this year.
“That kind of an agreement does not give me the opportunity to be a player in the industry,” Ryan said. “We’d like to extend our live meet and cut back to five days a week (from six). We cannot do that by accepting, though in good faith on their part, a pittance. We are in a box. We’re trapped. We need to get out.”
Ryan indicated an agreement with Ruma couldn’t be reached. "We're not talking about money," he said. "We're too far apart on the basic issue."
Beulah owner Charlie Ruma said his track’s total handle would drop from $400,000 a day to about $275,000 a day if the two tracks are open at the same time. That could force a 25% cut in purses before the live meet begins Sept. 16.
“Instead of raising the bar, we’d be dropping back,” Ruma said. “Mountaineer Park purses are already double what we have. Beulah Park would be like the bottom. It’s not good for racing across the board."
Ruma seemed more concerned about Scioto staying open this year rather than all of next year.
Scioto requested to begin its plan Sept. 17 at the conclusion of its live meet. A motion preventing the plan failed to pass on a 3-2 vote by the commission, but then, in an odd turn of events, a motion supporting Scioto’s request for a dates change failed to pass on a 3-2 vote.
That meant the existing schedule would remain intact—Beulah will be the only track open in the market—but perhaps only through the end of the year. Some commissioners indicated Scioto will get its wish when 2001 dates are granted in a couple of months.
“My problem with the request is the timing of it,” said commissioner Norman Barron, who voted against the request. “But frankly, if it was up to me, I’d have every track open every day, and then see who does it best.”
Commission chairman Luther Heckman indicated some other track officials in the state want Scioto open year-round so it would contribute to a common purse pool for dark-day simulcasting revenue. Heckman also expressed displeasure with the current set-up in the Columbus market, and called for construction of off-track betting parlors.
“If money if being left on the table in that market, maybe it’s because there is no satellite facility north of Columbus,” he said.
Officials said much of the population and wealth in the growing metropolitan Columbus area is located north of the city. Thus far, the state’s seven commercial tracks have built only two OTB parlors in a state with a population of about 11 million.