05/12/2008 12:00AM

Presque Isle joins signal dispute

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The signal from Presque Isle Downs in Pennsylvania has been unavailable on a number of major account-wagering platforms since the track opened on Friday because of a dispute over the amount of revenue from those wagers that would go to purses.

The dispute is similar to those affecting a number of racetracks around the country, including Churchill Downs in Louisville, Calder Race Course in Florida, and River Downs in Ohio. In the dispute, a group representing horsemen at Presque Isle has assigned their account-wagering rights to a company called the Thoroughbred Horsemen's Group, which is steadfastly pressing racetracks to provide one-third of the revenue from account wagers to purses. The tracks have refused.

Presque Isle, which is owned by a publicly traded racetrack and casino company, MTR Gaming Group, is scheduled to run 100 live race dates, from May 9 to Sept. 27.

Joe Santanna, the president of the Pennsylvania Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, said the association's board authorized the transfer of the account-wagering rights to the horsemen's group in order to address what he said were inequities in the way revenues from the bets are distributed. He cited typical numbers in the racing industry to justify the group's stance of seeking one-third of the revenue, using 3 percent as an average signal fee and a 21 percent blended takeout.

"You name one industry that sells its product for $30 and the next retailer down the line sells it for $210," Santanna said. "What industry would possibly have a system in place in which the retailer gets a seven-times markup? What we're asking for is not far-fetched."

Much of the purse revenue at Presque Isle is generated by slot machines. Prior to the opening on Friday, track officials forecast that purses would average $180,000 a day.

Presque Isle officials did not return phone calls on Monday.

The disputes affecting Churchill and Calder have both resulted in purse cuts for horsemen at the tracks. On Friday, Calder announced significant cuts to eight upcoming stakes races. Calder has already cut purses 30 percent.

Churchill Downs has said that it will cut overnight purses 20opercent across the board beginning on Wednesday.