JC / Railbird


California Complication

Oh, California. In an industry roiling coast to coast, the turmoil out west is something else. Handle is down more than $77 million at Santa Anita. Too few horses cause canceled days. Horseplayers are in revolt. “In my opinion,” bettor Andy Asaro told Art Wilson, “the CHRB leadership has failed California racing.” The matter of who’s leading is about to get more complicated: A new group called the California Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association issued a press release last night challenging the standing of the Thoroughbred Owners of California as the official group representing owners’ interests in the state.

Time for True Payouts

Steven Crist:

The argument against providing true payouts like $2.06 or $2.39 has always centered on the flimsy issue of forcing mutuel clerks to deal with pennies. The real issue is that all those confiscated pennies add up to several million dollars a year in each of the largest racing jurisdictions …

In an age where most of the handle is bet offtrack and increasingly through wagering accounts where no one is counting out small change, it is time to re-examine these policies. A horseplayer whose $2.39 payoff is being knocked down to $2.20 is having a 47 percent rounding tax applied to his rightful winnings – on top of a 15-to-20 percent takeout.

Ending breakage should be as much an issue as shrinking takeout.

Save Horses! Mug Horseplayers!

Let’s stop this idea in its tracks now:

Violette said there has been discussion about dedicating one-tenth of one percent of New York’s handle to retirement programs, which would need legislative approval. This would generate about $2.2-million per year.

“That way everybody that participates in racing — handicappers, tracks, jockeys, trainers, owners — would be giving something,” he said. “Yes, it means an increase in takeout. But I can’t think of a better reason for a takeout increase than the protection of our race horses.”

Raise takeout? An unfortunate necessity. Mandate that everyone who registers a foal pay $25 toward racehorse retirement? An impossible dream.

I’ve given money to the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation and other retirement groups in the past; I’ll surely do so in the future, because horses deserve a decent quality of life after the racetrack. But like most horseplayers, I don’t breed horses. I don’t own horses. And until those who do breed and own horses levy a similar burden on themselves to help cover thoroughbred retirement costs through registration, sales, or earnings — all possible sources of funds — then I’m not going to see a takeout increase, for the horses, as anything other than what it is — a politically palatable passing of the buck.

3/25/11 Note: There’s an excellent conversation going on in the comments about takeout and funding racehorse retirement, to which Violette thoughtfully replied this afternoon. “I will go even further; let’s not raise the takeout and take the same .001 from the existing levels,” he writes. “NO INCREASE. A solution must be found, this is for the greater good.”

Later Today

Suffolk Downs and the NEHBPA will resume talks, reports Lynne Snierson:

Frisoli said on Feb. 16 that a conference call among the negotiating teams for both sides has been scheduled for late afternoon on Thursday (Feb. 17)….

“We want to race this year and we want to have a good relationship with them,” said Frisoli. “We have been flexible and they have been rigid. But now they want to talk to us, and that is a good sign.”

Regarding revenue lost to simulcasting signals blocked as part of the dispute, NEHBPA lawyer Frank Frisoli told the Blood-Horse: “Although we believe that Suffolk caused this dispute and should therefore equitably be held accountable for the loss, we are still agreeing to share the loss.” That’s magnanimous.

Elsewhere: A Saturday Afternoon Horse praises the NEHBPA, chastises Suffolk:

Isn’t it the responsibility of the business owner to keep his customers happy? And with that in mind, didn’t management know that the simulcast signal would be pulled if they weren’t serious and sensitive to the horsemen’s interests and concerns? Of course the fans are unhappy, but that’s managements’ problem to resolve.

No, it’s not. We’ve heard several times during this dispute that the track should treat the horsemen as equal partners. If equal applies to revenue, then it applies to taking care of customers. Bettors fund purses — in slots-less Massachusetts, it’s as simple as that — and each time a simulcasting signal is cavalierly cut, or a bet is blocked on an ADW because of a squabble, revenue is lost not only at that moment, but later, because fans leave the game. The more customers alienated, the smaller purses paid — making unhappy horseplayers a problem for the horsemen as much as for the racetrack.

More on Tuttle’s Tuesday letter: “… little to endorse and much to dispute …

New Proposal, Laurel Cut

The New England HBPA’s response to Suffolk Downs’ proposed terms for the 2011 meet was presented to the track this morning and posted to the group’s website this afternoon. You can read the whole thing — it’s a two-page letter (PDF) — the gist of which is that the horsemen will race for the number of days required by state law for an equal split of the simulcasting revenue, “without the guarantee made in previous agreements as to the total amount of purses to be paid during the course of the meet.” No purse guarantees is the concession* — the rest of the proposal is what both sides stumbled over earlier in negotiations, leading to the breakdown in talks. Suffolk confirmed that it received the new proposal, but declined commenting until management reviewed it. My sense is that a breakthrough isn’t in the offing.

Suffolk’s simulcasting menu shrinks again on Friday. The Laurel Park signal will be blocked beginning tomorrow. The action, being taken by the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association in solidarity with the NEHBPA (joining the Florida, Ohio, and Oregon horsemens’ groups), brings the number of blocked tracks to six and could be taken as another sign that the impasse isn’t about to end soon. Here’s one Massachusetts bettor mad about the mess.

10:35 PM Addendum: Funny, I didn’t expect confirmation that the situation wasn’t on an upswing to come so swiftly. “[T]he racetrack threatened legal action against the horsemen and demanded they remove their office trailers from the grounds,” reports Lynne Snierson. At issue, apparently, is the NEHBPA’s fact-sheet posted yesterday (and which I delved into a bit below).

*2/11/10 Addendum: Additional info on what the NEHBPA projects for purses:

The proposal requires racing for the minimum number of days required by statute which is presently 100 days of racing. Daily purse distribution would be determined based upon available revenue. Assuming revenue consistent with 2010, the NEHBPA projects a daily purse distribution of about $95,000 per day would result from implementation of its proposal, with the prospect that the daily purse distribution could increase to $100,000 per day based on increases in simulcasting revenue consistent with increases experienced for the month of January 2011.

Assuming that 2011 revenues will remain consistent with 2010 seems risky, considering the downward trend in handle across the industry, as well as at Suffolk Downs, which is down more than a third since 2007.

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