01/08/2003 12:00AM

Purses cut for new meet

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GROVE CITY, Ohio - Beulah Park begins its 70-day winter-spring meeting Friday in what figures to be a pivotal year for Ohio's oldest track, which first opened in 1923.

The minimum purse at the meet is $3,800, down 24 percent from the corresponding meeting last year. Purses have been cut $200 per race since the conclusion of the fall meeting Dec. 22.

Ontrack business at Beulah has suffered in the past two years, since the track began competing for simulcasting dollars with Scioto Downs, a Standardbred track located a 10-minute drive east of Beulah. Under an agreement between the tracks, Beulah conducts daytime simulcasting and is closed at night, while Scioto handles night simulcast signals and is closed during the day.

Scioto was widely rumored to be on the verge of bankruptcy prior to being sold to MTR Gaming in December for approximately $19 million. MTR owns and operates Mountaineer Park, a West Virginia track that has enjoyed great success since adding slot machines several years ago.

Ohio's seven tracks, three Thoroughbred and four Standardbred, have unsuccessfully lobbied state legislators for slot machines the past several years. But Gov. Bob Taft, who was reelected by a wide margin in November, has repeatedly stated his opposition to the machines at the tracks.

Charles Ruma, president and majority owner of Beulah since 1986, said the track had a successful year financially in 2002, when its online betting service, AmericaTab, more than doubled its revenue to approximately $60 million. Events held at Beulah during the summer when the track is dark also produced revenue, offsetting declines in ontrack wagering. But Ruma said Ohio's tracks need slot machines in order to survive.

"We either get slot machines in the next three to four years or purses will continue to drop and conducting horse racing in the state will no longer be feasible," said Ruma.

Racing will be conducted four days per week - on Tuesdays, and Friday through Sunday - during both January and February. Thursdays will be added to the schedule in March. Racing will return to a four-day per week schedule when Tuesdays are dropped during the final month of the meet, which concludes on Kentucky Derby Day, May 3. First post is 1 p.m. Eastern.

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