05/11/2012 4:37PM

Ohio bill makes horsemen eligible for split of casino revenue

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Ohio’s horsemen could be eligible to receive as much as 11 percent of the revenue from racetrack casinos in the state under language added to a Senate bill passed Thursday.

The language creating the possibility of directing the revenue to horsemen was not included in an earlier version of the bill that passed the state’s House. The differences between the two bills will need to be ironed out in conference committee.

A provision in the Senate bill states that the Ohio State Racing Commission “may” write a rule that would impel the state’s racetrack-casino operators to direct at least nine percent and as much as 11 percent of casino revenue to the commission “for the benefit of breeding and racing in this state.” The use of “may,” rather than “shall,” puts the onus on the commission to adopt such a rule.

Ohio Gov. Tom Kasich authorized up to 14,000 slot machines at the state’s seven racetracks in a 2011 executive order. The order was later approved by the legislature, although it has been challenged in court by groups opposed to the expansion of gambling. The case is expected to be heard later this year.

A law passed in 2011 required racetrack casinos to have agreements with horsemen before being allowed to operate slot machines, but that law also did not set a specific amount of casino revenues that could be used as racing subsidies. So far, no racetrack-casino owner has reached a deal with horsemen on splits of casino revenue.

Officials with the Ohio Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association did not return phone calls on Friday. Ohio has three Thoroughbred tracks – River Downs in Cincinnati, Beulah Park in Columbus, and Thisltedown in Cleveland – and all have been purchased by casinos companies within the last two years. The state also has four harness tracks. Owners of the tracks have so far been cautious about starting construction projects on the casinos because of the legal challenge. Meanwhile, the first of four free-standing casinos in Ohio’s largest cities is expected to open Monday in downtown Cleveland.Representatives of the three owners of the Thoroughbred racetracks did not respond to requests for comment on the Senate bill.The Senate bill passed Thursday also contained language that would require racetracks to run at least 50 live racing days each year unless horsemen agree to run fewer dates.