Impasse threatens simulcast network Negotiations to extend agreement near deadline

November 15, 1997|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

With negotiations to extend their simulcasting agreement with the state's harness tracks at an impasse, officials of the thoroughbred tracks are urging that the dispute be submitted to binding arbitration.

The "facilities use agreement" that allows simulcasting of thoroughbred races at Rosecroft Raceway and simulcasting of harness races at the thoroughbred tracks expires at midnight. If the impasse continues, the state's network of simulcasts -- televised races that fans can bet on -- would be short-circuited.

Barring a settlement, starting tomorrow there will be no thoroughbred races simulcast during the day at Rosecroft and no harness simulcasting after 6: 15 p.m. at Laurel or Pimlico. The off-track betting parlors won't receive daytime harness races or evening thoroughbred races.

"We expect to lose many thousands of dollars for each day that passes until a new agreement is reached," said Joe De Francis, president of the Maryland Jockey Club, which owns Laurel and Pimlico. "I believe at this point that the negotiations have gone on for so long without a positive resolution that the best chance to resolve this dispute would be to submit it to binding arbitration by a neutral third party."

The original agreement expired two months ago but was extended through Nov. 15 after a compromise arranged by Eugene Conti, secretary of the Department of Labor and Licensing.

"Our board is prepared to pull the plug at the end of the racing card [tonight] if nothing is settled," said Gerry Brittingham, president of Cloverleaf Enterprises Inc., which operates Rosecroft. "It's a question of them [the Maryland Jockey Club] stepping up to the plate. I know our people are still talking to Joe, and a deal should be made for the benefit of the customers and the reputation of the industry."

Rosecroft, which is struggling for survival, gets 70 percent of the take from thoroughbred simulcasting at night, up from the original 55 percent. Rosecroft wants to keep its percentage at 70, with the Maryland Jockey Club receiving 30 percent.

Ocean Downs, the state's other harness track, stopped simulcasting daytime thoroughbred races earlier this year when it withdrew from the agreement, which called for Ocean Downs to pay 15 percent of day betting on thoroughbreds to the Maryland Jockey Club.

Pub Date: 11/15/97

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