Dispute threatens Derby simulcast

MidAtlantic Cooperative breaks off network talks

Horse Racing

April 24, 2003|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

Tracks and betting outlets throughout the mid-Atlantic region have pulled the plug on races from Churchill Downs and its sister tracks over a dispute involving the split of betting proceeds. If the dispute is not resolved, the Kentucky Derby will not be shown at mid-Atlantic tracks and off-track-betting sites.

MidAtlantic Cooperative, a group of 17 tracks that includes Pimlico and Laurel Park, broke off negotiations yesterday with Churchill Downs Simulcast Network, which controls the outgoing signal of races at Churchill Downs, Hollywood Park, Calder Race Course, Hoosier Park, Ellis Park and Arlington Park.

Hollywood Park in California opened yesterday, becoming the first of the tracks to open this year. Its races were not shown at mid-Atlantic tracks. Calder will open Friday and Churchill Downs Saturday. The Kentucky Derby is May 3.

Lou Raffetto Jr., chief operating officer of the Maryland Jockey Club, said Churchill's offer of rate hikes and guaranteed payments was "an absurd proposal." He said that mid-Atlantic tracks bet about $75 million last year on Churchill's and its affiliates' races, and that Churchill's simulcast network collected more than $10 million in commissions.

"We're their best customer," Raffetto said. "This is a lose, lose, lose situation. We lose, they lose and the customers lose."

Karl F. Schmitt Jr., president of Churchill Downs Simulcast Networks, issued a two-sentence statement. It said that the network is still interested in reaching agreement, and that the network offered to continue sending its signal to mid-Atlantic tracks while discussions continued.

Raffetto said that was "misleading." He said Churchill offered only to send Hollywood Park's signal through Friday and Calder's on Friday.

Raffetto said it's up to Churchill to come back with a proposal "that makes sense. ... We want to get this thing resolved."

In the fall of 2001, MidAtlantic Cooperative cut off races from Kentucky's Keeneland over a dispute involving Keeneland's reduction in takeout, the amount withheld from wagers. After an outcry from angry bettors, the dispute was resolved within a few days.

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