01/26/2007 12:00AM

Horsemen sue over Ohio ruling


The Ohio Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association has filed a lawsuit in United States District Court for Southern Ohio that challenges a recent decision by the Ohio State Racing Commission to overrule the horsemen's group's veto of a simulcast signal.

The lawsuit, which was filed by Lexington, Ky.-based attorney Doug McSwain on Thursday, states that the decision by the commission to overrule the veto violates the Federal Interstate Horseracing Act, the 1978 law that gives horsemen the right to approve the distribution of simulcast signals from host tracks, and is therefore unconstitutional.

On Dec. 19, the racing commission issued an order stating that the horsemen's group had "unreasonably withheld" its approval for Beulah Park and River Downs to send their signals to Chester Downs, a harness track and casino in Pennsylvania owned by Harrah's, the casino company. The Ohio HBPA had declined to approve the distribution of the signals because they believed that Chester Downs should pay 5 percent of handle for the signal, rather than the 3 percent rate in the contract that Beulah and River had signed, according to the lawsuit.

The case will hinge on whether Ohio's law can supersede a federal law. The Ohio law states that "the consent of the horsemen's organization . . . shall not be unreasonably withheld and shall be consistent with the interest of preserving live racing."

McSwain said to his knowledge the racing commission had never invoked the law to override a horsemen's veto involving an interstate simulcast.

"The law can be interpreted as relating to both intrastate and interstate simulcasts," McSwain said. "If it's used for intrastate simulcasts, then it's not so problematic. But when they use it to deny horsemen's rights over interstate simulcasts, then we have to attack it, which is what we've done."

John Izzo, the deputy director of the Ohio State Racing Commission, said that the commission could not comment on the case because of the lawsuit.