Charles Town draws Laurel's ire De Francis considering suit to stop full-card simulcasts

January 16, 1993|By Ross Peddicord | Ross Peddicord,Staff Writer

Officials at Laurel Race Course are considering court action to try to stop Charles Town Race Course from taking full-card daily simulcasts from Gulfstream Park in Hallandale, Fla.

Previously, the Charles Town, W.Va., track, located about 60 miles west of Laurel, ran mostly at night and only occasionally competed directly with Laurel, usually on Sunday afternoons.

No more.

Starting on Tuesday, Charles Town became a daily head-on competitor with Laurel by offering the Gulfstream card, which begins at 1 p.m., a half hour after the 12:30 p.m. Laurel post time (noon on weekends).

Charles Town couples the 10-race Florida program with another nine televised races from Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, Calif. The California card starts at 3:30 p.m.

Laurel president Joe De Francis said he has not fully consulted yet with Martin Jacobs, his track's chief counsel. But he said a federal interstate racing statute prohibits Charles Town from taking the simulcasts once Laurel's live program begins.

"It is one thing for them to do it at night to supplement their live card," De Francis said. "But by doing it in the afternoon, they are coming after our customers, and that is just what the federal law is all about."

De Francis said he did not know if he will seek a court injunction to stop the Gulfstream simulcasts. "But I'm going to seek to enforce our rights to the fullest," he said.

Don Hudson, general manager at Charles Town, disagrees with De Francis.

"The law allows us to do it, and conversely, so can Maryland," Hudson said. "I'm not a lawyer, but I'm just telling you what our lawyers have said. There is no statute that says we can be sued by neighboring tracks."

After the first four days, Charles Town is averaging about $100,000 daily from the 19 additional electronic races.

The track attracts about 300 fans who arrive by 1 p.m. for the Gulfstream races. So far they have bet an average of $35,967 on the Florida program. The crowd swells to about 450 by the time the California card starts. Average daily handle on those races is $67,234, since Santa Anita began on Dec. 26.

The numbers might not sound significant, but collectively, the simulcasts have netted horsemen about $7,400 daily in extra purses and allowed Charles Town management to restore a 10-percent purse cut that it had initiated last year.

Hudson said that the simulcasts attract serious players and added that many of them come from Maryland.

De Francis said the Charles Town experience shows the fierce competition for the gambling dollar in this area.

"That $100,000 is about 10 percent of the $1 million our tracks are now averaging," he said. It roughly approximates the current decrease in Laurel's handle.

"It points out the demand for those simulcasts and that we have to offer them to our fans," De Francis said.

He had hoped to have a multiple signal simulcast program in place at Laurel, but it is dependent on the General Assembly passing commingling legislation that it will shortly be asked to consider on an emergency basis.

In addition to offering the Gulfstream and Santa Anita races at Laurel, De Francis wants to add Oaklawn Park simulcasts to "our already top-notch live cards. That will give Maryland bettors the best of all worlds."

The Gulfstream simulcast program at Charles Town is another new Laurel rival. Last week, the state of Maryland introduced keno, a video lottery game, that has also become a daily competitor.

Charles Town has only been offering two live cards weekly in additional to the simulcasts. But the track returns to a five-day live-card format next week. For the first time, Charles Town will offer a live card during the afternoon on Thursdays as well as on Sundays and Wednesdays. Night racing is scheduled on Friday and Saturday.

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