08/08/2007 12:00AM

Low takeout experiment begins at new Laurel meet


Price-sensitive horseplayers, take note: Laurel Park in Maryland opens a 10-day meet on Friday with a reduced takeout that will make the effective takeout on wagers only 11.4 percent, the lowest across-the-board takeout in the U.S.

Laurel officials announced the plan to reduce the takeout last month, and because of concerns by simulcasting outlets over lower revenues from the Laurel signal, simulcasting outlets in three states have so far failed to reach an agreement with Laurel over taking the signal, according to Lou Raffetto, the chief operating officer of Laurel. The states are Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Virginia.

Raffetto cautioned in an interview on Wednesday that he was hopeful that Laurel would come to an agreement with the states before the meet opens on Friday afternoon.

"All I can tell you at this point is that negotiations are still ongoing," Raffetto said.

Simulcasting outlets retain the difference between the takeout and what the outlets pay for a racing signal. Therefore, any cut in the takeout reduces the revenues that simulcasting outlets retain from wagering on a signal. In several cases over the past five years, simulcasting outlets have rejected the signals from tracks that cut takeout, making experimentation with the price of betting often difficult.

"We're going to put on the best show possible," Raffetto said. "I'm hoping at the end of the day that the experiment tells us something, because I'd like to believe that the takeout matters. I know it's the right thing to do at the right time."

Laurel Park is owned by Magna Entertainment Corp., which earlier this year formed a partnership with Churchill Downs Inc. to market simulcast signals. As a result, Laurel's experiment did not meet as much resistance from racetracks as it would have if it did not have the combined power of the two large racing companies behind it.

The nine-race opening-day card includes five turf races. All the turf races but one have drawn full fields of 12, with the other drawing 11 horses, an also-eligible, and a main-track-only.

Racing will be conducted during the brief meet on a Wednesday through Sunday schedule, with first post on all weekdays at 3:30 p.m. Eastern. First post on Saturday and Sunday will be 1:10 p.m. Admission will be free on weekdays.

Laurel Park and its sister track, Pimlico, have struggled to post profits over the past several years, and as a result of an expected shortfall in the purse fund at year's end, the tracks slashed their purse schedules for the remainder of the year. The 10-day summer meet at Laurel will include only two stakes, a pair of $50,000 statebred stakes for 3-year-olds.