Handle, Purses Drop at Churchill Downs

Handle, Purses Drop at Churchill Downs
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Churchill Downs’ 52-day spring meet closed July 6 with steep declines in handle and purses, likely results of a well-publicized clash between track officials and horsemen over wagering revenue.

Total handle, not including separate-pool wagering, was down 11.5% to $494,915,067, according to figures compiled by The Jockey Club Information Systems. Total purse money paid to horsemen was $23,286,084, or a daily average of $447,809, which represented a 7.9% decline in a year-over-year comparison with the 2007 meet.

The meet closed with no resolve to an ongoing dispute between Churchill Downs Inc. and Kentucky-based horsemen groups, which are seeking for purses a larger percentage of wagers made through Internet and telephone platforms. The Kentucky Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association and the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association each withheld their consent for the Churchill signal to go a select group of large-volume advance deposit wagering outlets, including TVG, Youbet.com, XpressBet.com, and Churchill’s own Twinspires.com platforms.

Last year, the Churchill signal was also barred from ADWs such as TVG and Youbet.com by the advent of TrackNet Media Group, which is a joint content venture of CDI and Magna Entertainment Corp. When compared with the 57-day 2006 meet, when there was open access to most betting outlets, this year’s average daily handle was off 14.4%. CDI last year implemented a policy in which it only releases handle figures during its quarterly reports, the next of which is expected to be published in early August.

CDI announced a 20% purse cut May 14 in reaction to the horsemen’s groups not granting consent, and handle dropped 20.1% to a daily average of $5,631,719 for the remainder of the meet when compared with a similar period last year. Purses paid were 13.3% lower for a $346,029 daily average. The average field size following the purse cut was 7.53, a decline of 7% during a comparable period in 2007.

It’s not clear if the total purses paid out will result in an overage or underage, as attempts to obtain clarification and other comments from officials with both CDI and the Kentucky HBPA weren’t immediately successful.

Churchill's meet was marked by several legal maneuverings. A federal antitrust lawsuit filed in May by CDI and affiliates claim horsemen's groups illegally colluded in negotiating ADW contracts. Horsemen's groups and individuals named in the suit responded in part by seeking a temporary injunction against the 20% purse cut, which was called coercive and in breach of contract by the defendants.

The request for relief was denied by a Kentucky federal judge presiding over the case. Horsemen have until July 28 to officially respond to the antitrust allegations of CDI, according a recent request granted by the judge. Florida horsemen named in the suit will reportedly be dismissed from the lawsuit in the advent of a purse and slots revenue agreement signed with Calder Race Course.

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