Friday, February 13, 2009

Vegas Race Books and TrackNet Reach Agreement

The Las Vegas Review-Journal reports that TrackNet, the Churchill-Magna alliance, has reached an agreement with the Nevade Pari-Mutuel Association that will permit the Vegas race books to resume taking parimutuel pool bets on the Churchill and Magna tracks as early as today. The race books had been blacked out for 16 days, as TrackNet sought higher fees for its simulcast signals.

No details on how much the fees have been increased are available, but they've certainly been raised from the historically low levels that the tracks let Vegas get away with for years.  My guess, though, is that the new agreement will still pay CHurchill and Magna less -- a lot less -- than the 6-7% for purses and another 6-7% for the sending track that has been the goal of the Thoroughbred Horsemen's group.  Fes for the simulcast signal from major tracks in recent years have tended to be between 3% and 5%, which is then divided between the track and the purse account.

An interesting freature of the TrackNet-Vegas agreement is that it sets up a two-tier system, under which the race books will pay a higher rate for premium tracks -- Santa Anita, Churchill and Gulfstream -- and a lower rate for the rest of the tracks in the TrackNet group, including the Fair Grounds, Arlington, Golden Gate, Laurel, Pimlico, Lone Star and Oaklawn.  That makes some sort of economic sense (at least to someone like me, whose horses run mostly on the "premium" NYRA circuit), but I can see horsemen's groups at the second-tier tracks being less than overjoyed.  It remains to be seen if any of those groups will exercise their veto, granted by the federal Interstae Horse Racing Act, to block their signal.

While it's undoubtedly a good thing to have racing available on as many platforms as possible, including the Vegas race books, one wonders whether TrackNet pushed the negotiations as far as they might have.  TrackNet itself is a large online betting operator, and it certainly has a built-in conflict of interest between its desire to increase online (and race book) betting on the one hand and Churchil and Magna's presumed interests as race track operators on the other.

Just as the current economic situation makes it hard for organized labor to take militant action, so the economic crisis in racing makes it difficult for horsemen's groups to be too militant about raising their share of online betting revenue. For now, we're all just trying to survive.

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