08/19/2010 2:54PM

River Downs requests fewer dates for 2011


River Downs in Cincinnati, Ohio, has applied for 26 fewer race dates in 2011 than the track is scheduled to race in 2010, setting up a conflict with horsemen who are reluctant to accept any further reductions to the state’s racing calendar.

River applied for 78 dates for 2011, down from 104 this year, a schedule that “would basically cut us to a four-day race week,” said Jack Hanessian, the track’s general manager. Under Ohio statute, River is required to run 119 live race dates each year, unless horsemen agree to a reduced schedule.

“Hopefully we can keep the purses up with that schedule,” Hanessian said. “But hope is often different from reality.”

Last year, horsemen fought a similar proposal from River, and the track ultimately relented. Dave Basler, the executive director of the Ohio Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, said that horsemen had first learned of River’s application on Thursday. He would not comment specifically on the application.

“I think there will be much discussion among board members and the general membership about whether this is a schedule we can accept,” Basler said.

River Downs and the state’s two other Thoroughbred tracks, Beulah Park and Thistledown, submitted the applications on Monday, and the state’s racing commission discussed the applications on Thursday. The commission is scheduled to vote on the applications on Sept. 22.

According to John Izzo, the commission’s deputy executive director, Beulah Park applied for 121 days of live Thoroughbred racing, and Thistledown applied for 122 dates. Beulah’s application exactly coincided with the statutory minimum, but Thistledown’s application was well short of the statutory minimum of 187 days. Still, horsemen agreed to an identical live racing schedule at Thistledown for 2010.

Earlier this year, Harrah’s Entertainment purchased Thistledown from MI Developments, and Penn National Gaming closed a deal to purchase Beulah Park from its former partners. Both companies are hoping to protect gambling investments in Ohio and neighboring states, as well as benefit from any successful effort to legalize slot machines or other casino-type games at Ohio racetracks.

The state’s lottery has petitioned an Ohio court to issue a ruling on whether it is legal for video-lottery terminals, a type of slot machine, to be installed at racetracks without legislative approval. It is uncertain when the ruling will be issued.