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Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Winter of Discontent (It's Not Just the Snow)

The horsemen at Monticello have issued a statement as to why they have withheld their racing signal from out of state locations, the law which caps slot revenue to 2013 level.  Not only do they want the possibility of getting more revenue, there is a legitimate fear that racinos will switch out VLTs to traditional slot machines and get away without paying commission on that revenue.

As expected with the withholding of the simulcast signal, horsemen at Monticello have had purses cut.  The bottom purse has been reduced to $1,400 for non-winners of $200 per last six starts; $4,000 claimers now race for $1,600.  I wouldn't be surprised if these purses get cut further if the signal boycott continues.

I am not saying the horsemen are right or wrong at Monticello, but to this observer it is funny how with this problem of VLT revenue cap hitting all tracks, it was at Monticello, a track where horsemen scrape by the stand by horsemen is made.  Why not at Yonkers?  After all, they signed a contract just in December, didn't they know about the 2013 VLT cap then?  I can't help but think the Catskill horsemen are being used as pawns while the horsemen at Yonkers can keep earning their big purses.  Sure, many of the horsemen race at both tracks but the Monticello-based horsemen have far and few Yonkers horses to help keep the bills getting paid.

Meanwhile in Chi-town, what had been amicable negotiations appears to have taken a turn for the worse as track management has gone to the IRB asking to cancel Wednesday night racing for the entire year.  As a result, negotiations have gone on hold until the IRB issues a decision on Tuesday as the horsemen don't know how many days they will be racing and how it will impact their decision.

Personally, I suspect this request to cancel Wednesday nights is just a poke at the IHHA because until a contract is negotiated, I don't think the IRB will grant the request.  After all, usually to get days taken off the racing calendar the track needs to show either a shortage of horses or unsound financial condition.  Obviously, they can't claim a horse shortage and to claim an unsound financial condition prior to securing a contract is premature.

Where horsemen could be hurt is if the tracks decide to close their backstretches if no agreement is reached within a certain time period.  If that happens, then things can get really nasty as horsemen at tracks outside of Illinois can withhold their signal for simulcasting,  What once seemed like a minor spat has the potential of becoming a real donnybrook.

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