The Horseplayers Association of North America and Playersboycott.org announced Oct. 5 that an organized horseplayer boycott of Keeneland, which begins its fall meet Oct. 6, is underway.
The organizations cited an increase in takeout as a reason for the boycott.
"Keeneland decided to hit horseplayers with a takeout increase," said HANA president and Playersboycott.org spokesman Jeff Platt. "Keeneland claims they are going to use money raised by the takeout increase to boost purses. But higher takeout in the name of bigger purses has been tried before and it has failed—big time."
Horseplayer boycotts have recently occurred in 2011 (Santa Anita Park and Golden Gate Fields) and in 2014 (Churchill Downs) over similar issues regarding increased takeout. In 2014, handle at Churchill Downs during the meet that was under boycott saw a decrease of 11.5% when compared to 2013, according to Kentucky Horse Racing Commission records.
"I reached out to (Keeneland vice president of racing and sales) Bob Elliston ... and we had a 90-minute phone call," Platt said. "We discussed the actual outcomes that arose from the above takeout increases. But it became obvious that Keeneland believes players would support a takeout increase, because money raised by the takeout increase would be going to bigger purses. I did my best to make it clear that takeout increases lead to the opposite of bigger purses. In the end we agreed to disagree."
The HANA announcement said the organizations are "asking horseplayers to consider the idea that horseplayers are consumers, and that every handle dollar bet at Keeneland is a vote for higher takeout everywhere. ... (We) are asking horseplayers to send a clear message by not betting one track, Keeneland, for one month—October 2017. That's it."
"Join us," Platt said. "Together we can convince Keeneland to reverse their decision."
Keeneland issued a statement of its own in response Thursday night, from president and chief executive officer Bill Thomason.
"Keeneland, since its inception in 1936, has operated toward a singular mission—to invest all profits, above what is necessary to operate our company, back into the industry to benefit all who are part of it. We have never wavered from our founding principles, and we will never do so," the statement said. "This price increase, the first in decades, keeps us within the five lowest blended rates of all major U.S. racetracks and is necessary to continue to fulfill our mission. Keeneland's mission stands for fan development, safety, and welfare initiatives; developing racing across the world; and delivering the highest quality and most competitive racing product to our horsemen and fans.
"Horsemen from all across the United States and Europe have entered an average of 100 horses in each of the three days of our Fall Stars Weekend, assembling some of the best race cards available to fans this year. We trust that those who we exist to serve—our owners, breeders, trainers, jockeys, fans, and yes, handicappers—will continue to support the mission that has guided our actions since our inception."
Keeneland closes its fall meeting Oct. 28.
Jeremy Balan contributed to this report.