04/18/2006 11:00PM

Churchill signal talks going down to wire


LAS VEGAS - The Nevada Pari-Mutuel Association and the Churchill Downs Simulcast Network had failed as of Wednesday afternoon to agree on a new simulcast contract, and without one the state's race books will be unable to take parimutuel wagers on the Kentucky Derby, just two weeks away, or import the signal and take parimutuel wagers on Churchill Downs-owned racetracks. Several Churchill-owned racetracks are scheduled to open in the next month, including the flagship Churchill Downs on April 29.

At issue, according to several Las Vegas race book managers, is the percentage of handle that the parimutuel association, which negotiates simulcast rights for the books, is charged by Churchill for the rights to simulcast the company's signals and to commingle wagers into its pools. Representatives from the parimutuel association and Churchill declined to confirm the reason for the impasse.

"Churchill's policy is to not discuss contract negotiations while they're still in progress," said Julie Koenig Loignon, director of communications.

"I can't give details," said Patty Jones, executive director of the parimutuel association, "but we're hopeful of getting this resolved before the start of the meets next week. We don't want what happened last time to happen again."

Jones was referring to 1997, when a contract impasse between the parimutuel association and California's racetracks resulted in a simulcast blackout.

Should the books and Churchill fail to reach agreement, this simulcast stoppage would be more widespread.

In addition to Churchill Downs, several other tracks that are opening soon would be affected. They include Calder Race Course, which opens Tuesday; Hollywood Park, which opens Wednesday; Arlington Park, which opens May 5; and Bay Meadows, which opens May 10.

Churchill Downs Inc. no longer owns Hollywood or Bay Meadows, but continues to negotiate simulcasting rights for the two tracks, Koenig Loignon said.

If no agreement is reached before the tracks open, Churchill would lose a significant revenue stream, and the Nevada race books would lose handle. Without the commingling of pools, race books would have to "book" wagers themselves and would not be able to show the races on television. There would be no multirace wagers such as the pick four and pick six available in Nevada, and other exotics such as exactas, quinellas, and trifectas would be subject to house limits in the range of 200-1 or 300-1. Nevada bookmaking rules also require that betting be closed two minutes before a race is run, which would further inconvenience bettors.