02/03/2014 2:39PM

NYRA, Churchill Downs Inc. lack contract for simulcast signal rights


The New York Racing Association and Churchill Downs Inc. have been unable to reach an agreement on NYRA’s simulcast signal rights despite several extensions to last year’s contract, a dispute that could result in a blackout of NYRA’s signal on the United States’s largest account-wagering site beginning later this week, according to officials.

The latest extension to last year’s agreement expired Monday, and negotiations between the two parties are ongoing, according to the tracks’ officials. NYRA’s next live racing day is Friday at Aqueduct.

The dispute involves two of the most powerful racing companies in the United States. Churchill owns four racetracks and operates twinspires.com, the largest account-wagering site in the country, and because of the size of its operation, the company has enormous leverage in negotiations over simulcast contracts with racetracks.

On the opposite side, NYRA has the most valuable year-round signal of any single racing operator, and its simulcast rate is believed to be the highest in the United States outside of major events like the Triple Crown races and Breeders’ Cup. NYRA operates Aqueduct, Belmont Park, and Saratoga Race Course, which together account for approximately one-fifth of the handle on U.S. races.

Late last year, NYRA’s chief executive, Chris Kay, said that NYRA would be seeking a higher rate for its simulcast signal in 2014 as a way to shore up its bottom line. NYRA has had troubles over the past decade posting a profit on its racing operations when excluding subsidies from a casino located at Aqueduct.

Though NYRA officials said they would not comment on the negotiations Monday, an official with knowledge of NYRA’s contracts said the association has reached new contracts with all of the major signal brokers in the United States with the exception of Churchill. Those contracts were reached with a “modest” increase to the signal price, the official said.

A Churchill spokesperson said the company would have no comment on the negotiations as of early Monday afternoon.

A blackout of the NYRA signal on twinspires.com could have serious repercussions for both sides. Some twinspires.com customers could migrate to competing account-wagering companies, including NYRA’s own internet and telephone betting operation, to retain access to the signal. Meanwhile, NYRA could lose a significant amount of handle on its signal if twinspires.com customers are unable to bet on its races.