09/26/2003 12:00AM

Letters to the Editor

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Worker's comp: Let's get the facts right

I read with great disbelief the column written by Steven Crist ("Bettors face legal mugging") in last Sunday's DRF. Journalistic privilege is replete with latitude, but it does not extend to outright factual distortions and misstatements.

Mr. Crist's ultimate position is that the proposed bill, which would add 0.5 percent to the exotic takeout in California, is not in the best interest of the industry. Obviously, he is entitled to his opinion. However, many of his factual assertions are nothing but absolute false statements.

The statement that the California Horse Racing Board irresponsibly supported the additional takeout and ignored its charter to protect the fan base is an unequivocal misstatement. First of all, the board has not taken a position on the issue, nor is our input directly involved in the legislative process. However, several commissioners have been individually active in an attempt to protect the interests of all facets of the industry, especially the fans', by proposing amendments to the bill that would limit its impact. In addition, Mr. Crist failed to mention that the blended takeout in California would remain among the lowest in the nation (significantly lower than NYRA's), even if the increase were approved.

The California racetracks, along with other facets of the industry such as Thoroughbred Owners of California and California Thoroughbred Trainers, should be applauded for their attention to the workers' compensation issue and for their commitment to help ameliorate this problem that plagues California industry. Not only has each and every track stepped forward with its leadership, but also with its dollars. The tracks have posted letters of credit in the amount of $4.8 million, and they, along with the horsemen, have committed in excess of $3 million dollars over an 18-month period in an effort to assist the horsemen to continue to operate, without obligation of any kind, but rather because of a sincere desire to maintain quality racing in the state. Either Mr. Crist was totally unaware of this effort or he distastefully chose to ignore it to paint a picture of complacency and disinterest. That is not responsible journalism.

Hopefully, Mr. Crist's inaccurate reporting will be overshadowed by the positive movements in the Thoroughbred industry in California. Not only is ontrack attendance and wagering showing positive momentum at Fairplex and at Bay Meadows, immediately following a sensational Del Mar meet, but we look forward to an exemplary Breeders' Cup and a continuation of the increased media exposure and positive advanced deposit wagering results. These results have been attained due to the unity and leadership of the industry in California and responsible due diligence, something that was grossly lacking in the Crist column.

Roger H. Licht, chairman California Horse Racing Board

Takeout increase needed to help Calif. racing

Steven Crist's article on racing in California ("Bettors face legal mugging," Sept. 21) and the legislation that would increase the takeout by 0.5 percent to defer workers' compensation costs revealed a total ignorance of the state of racing in California.

The bill would raise the takeout from 20.18 percent to 20.68 percent. Crist, sitting in Saratoga Springs, ignores the fact that New York's subsidized racing relies on takeouts of 25 percent on trifectas, superfectas, pick threes, and pick fours. Crist apparently is unaware that our two major-league tracks in Los Angeles (Hollywood Park and Santa Anita) have had declines in population, both human and equine.

Ten years ago it was common for weekday attendance to average 15,000, with weekend attendance between 20,000 and 30,000. Today, weekday attendance is almost always under 5,000 and weekend attendance varies between 14,000 and 18,000, except on special days.

Ten years ago owners of 2- and 3-year-old maidens had difficulty getting their horses into a race, and a typical eight-race card had about 85 horses racing. Over the last two years, Hollywood Park and Santa Anita have run many cards where the total number of horses running on an eight-race card is under 60.

Horsemen have left California and there is no reason for them to return because of the prohibitive workers' compensation costs. While Crist briefly quotes Ed Halpern, the executive director of California Thoroughbred Trainers, he should put himself in Halpern's position, trying to convince stable after stable that they should remain in California. The state government is trying to amend its workers' compensation program, but racing needs immediate help. Crist should learn the facts before he pontificates about something that he apparently did not take the time to study.

I believe that most racing fans are not going to be upset if their $26 exacta ticket pays $25.60 if it means that there's a chance to restore full fields and revive local racing. Such successes would increase the handle and result in both higher purses and higher mutuel prices.

Irving Reifman
Los Angeles

Don't forget about owners; they carry burden, too

Steven Crist, in his Sept. 21 column "Bettors face legal mugging," makes several points against California adding a 0.5 percent tax on exotic wagers. On this point I am in 100 percent total agreement with Steven. He is right!

On another point he is completely out of line and wrong. He says: "If horseplayers are being asked to take smaller payouts to pay someone else's insurance bills, why aren't track operators, owners, breeders, and sales companies also being asked to pay a new tax? . . . It's only because racetrack and horse owners have lobbyists and clout, and customers don't."

As far as I know, horse owners have no lobbyist and if we do they have another agenda other than protecting us. Horse owners such as myself have every cost possible passed on to us. We buy expensive yearlings who may or may not ever make it to the races. We pay shipping, vet and shoeing costs, along with many other expenses. We hope to but rarely do recoup our expenses. We pay workers' compensation for millionaire jockeys who have no financial investment in our industry to ride our horses. We pay exorbitant workers' comp costs passed on to us by our trainers as day fees. If it were not for conscientious trainers like Mike Mitchell, Vladimir Cerin, and Dean Greenman watching out for owners like myself and my associates, there would be far fewer owners in this game. Yes the bettors would have been mugged by this bill. But the owners get mugged every day from every angle possible. Remember, take the bettor out of the game and the game will die. Take the owner out of the game and guess what? There is no game.

Thomas A. Noone
Redondo Beach, Calif.

Put your money where your mouth is

As a horse owner and breeder of over 30 years, I strongly object to Steven Crist's inaccuracies and lack of understanding about the industry through which he earns a rather good living ("Bettors face legal mugging," Sept. 21). He undoubtedly is gambler with no continuing investment in the business. I presently have one horse in a high-profile barn and the insurance runs $19.50 per day or $7,000 per year. Crist would like us to accept these ridiculous expenses or get out of the business.

Rather than getting out of the business that most of us love, we can go to the East, have much lower expenses, and participate in income from future slots.

If Crist had any money in the business side of the industry, he would come up with better ideas about solving our problems.

Elliot Alexander
Los Angeles