07/07/2008 12:00AM

Horsemen, Churchill reach pact over Calder


The Florida Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association and Churchill Downs Inc. have reached purse agreements for the ongoing Calder Race Course meet in Miami that will end a 2 1/2-month blackout of the track's signal at most out-of-state locations as of Thursday, the two sides said on Monday.

The agreements pertain to the horsemen's share of wagering revenue and splits from money generated by a planned casino at Calder, which is owned by Churchill Downs. The horsemen's group had withheld its consent for Calder to send its signal to nearly every out-of-state simulcasting site until the agreements were in place, frustrating horseplayers around the country since the track opened on April 21.

Though the agreements were worked out on Saturday, Churchill officials did not sign the contracts until Monday. A publicly traded company, Churchill announced that it had signed the agreements after the market closed Monday afternoon. After the announcement, horsemen informed Churchill that Calder could begin to export its signal again, according to horsemen's officials.

The agreements do not resolve differences between the horsemen's group and Calder over the export of the track's signal to account-wagering sites, and a blackout on those sites will continue, officials for both sides said. Before the start of the Calder meet, the horsemen authorized a company, Thoroughbred Horsemen's Group, to negotiate contracts on its behalf with account-wagering companies, but the Thoroughbred Horsemen's Group has not been successful in persuading account-wagering companies to cut horsemen in on one-third of the revenue from online or telephone betting.

Similar disagreements have affected several of Churchill's tracks this year, including Churchill Downs in Louisville and Arlington Park in Chicago.

As part of the agreements with Calder, Churchill has dropped a lawsuit against the Florida Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association alleging that the group's decision to withhold approval for the export of the simulcast signals was in violation of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. Churchill is still, however, accusing the Thoroughbred Horsemen's Group of violations under the act.

Calder's handle is down approximately 70 percent compared with last year because of the loss of out-of-state sites and account-wagering operations from its distribution network. Average daily purse distribution is approximately $130,000 a day, but horsemen said that the agreements will restore the average distribution to approximately $180,000 beginning on Thursday, Calder's next live race day.

Calder is scheduled to hold its annual Summit of Speed on Saturday. The card, which includes four graded stakes, typically attracts more wagering dollars than any other card during the track's eight-month season.

Voters in Miami-Dade County voted to approve slot machines at Calder Race Course earlier this year. Churchill has declined to comment on its plans for the casino, but horsemen were adamant that the company reach an agreement on purse revenue from the machines this year before they would agree to allow the track to export its signal. An agreement with horsemen is required under Florida law.

Kent Stirling, the executive director of the Florida horsemen's association, and Churchill said on Monday that the slot-machine agreement will entitle horsemen to an annual lump-sum payment for the first three years that the casino is operating, for a total of $14.75 million. In the following seven years, horsemen will receive 6.75 percent of the revenue from the machines, the two sides said.

Slot machines at other parimutuel facilities in Florida have failed miserably to hit projections for revenue. At Gulfstream Park, where slot machines were installed late in 2006, the per-machine average in May was $131 of revenue a day, according to figures compiled by the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering, well below the $300 per-machine estimates but significantly improved from the late-2007 average, which was under $80 per machine.