04/28/2008 12:00AM

Belmont simo negotiations at standstill


A cooperative of racetracks on the Eastern Seaboard has broken off negotiations on a simulcasting agreement with the New York Racing Association for the rights to accept wagers on Belmont Park, the cooperative said on Monday.

Belmont Park’s popular spring-summer meet opens on Wednesday. The executive director of the cooperative – which includes 16 member tracks in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire – said the cooperative was unwilling to pay the rate that NYRA was seeking for the Belmont signal.

“NYRA’s unreasonable price demands, if agreed to, will negatively impact our member racetracks’ ability to present live and simulcast racing in the region,” said Martin Lieberman, the executive director of the cooperative.

Charles Hayward, the chief executive of NYRA, said he was “mystified” by the cooperative’s statement on Monday, and referred questions to Hal Handel, the chief operating officer who is in charge of the negotiations. Handel did not immediately return phone calls on Monday afternoon.

The cooperative, which was formed in 1999 in order to increase its members’ leverage over simulcasting negotiations, has clashed in the past with racetracks over simulcast rates, including two occasions when its members failed to come to terms over rates for NYRA’s signals. On both occasions, the two sides reached agreements after brief blackouts.

The threat of a blackout of the Belmont signal comes at a time when many high-profile racetracks are seeking higher rates for their signals. In addition, some horsemen’s groups are also seeking higher cuts of simulcasting fees for in-home wagers. The twin pressures have recently disrupted the availability of several signals at simulcast sites and account-wagering operations.

Simulcast sites retain the difference between the rate they pay for a signal and the takeout. Therefore, any increase in the rate or decrease in the takeout eats into the revenues retained by simulcast sites.

NYRA has one of the lowest takeouts in the country, and it is also one of the most sought-after signals by horseplayers.