05/16/2002 11:00PM

Takeout hike plan shelved


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Legislation that would have raised the parimutuel takeout to offset higher workmen's compensation rates paid by California trainers has been shelved, but may be revisited in the future, racing officials said on Thursday.

Since the end of February, when private insurance companies stopped offering workmen's compensation policies to trainers, racing officials have been searching for methods to pay the higher premiums offered by the government-backed State Fund.

A takeout hike was widely discussed as a potential solution in March and April. The proposal was met with criticism for forcing bettors to pay the industry's costs.

A large group of trainers had policies with private companies expire in February. Another large group of trainers will have policies expire at the end of June.

Racing officials and horsemen are concerned that some owners and trainers will be put out of business by the higher costs.

"This is a crisis and we have to solve it and do what's necessary," said Hollywood Park president Rick Baedeker.

Three other methods of covering workmen's compensation costs are being discussed: redirecting money from existing programs, continuing to search for private insurance companies that would offer policies, or developing a group insurance policy instead of the current method of buying individual policies.

To offset insurance costs, officials are considering using money from a fund used to ship horses from track to track, or from the California Marketing Fund, which was designed to pay for advertising and promotion when it was originated in the late 1990's.

The proposal to develop a group insurance policy could offer immediate savings from the State Fund rates, according to Baedeker.

"Initially, there could be a saving of 10 to 15 percent, but all the experts say that costs will continue to increase in the next three years," Baedeker said. "Looking back in three years, we could see savings of 35 to 30 percent. That could be conservative because we don't want to overproject."

The chance of a private insurance company offering a rate proposal is doubtful, according to Ed Halpern, the executive director of the California Thoroughbred Trainers.

"The fact that they haven't come back to us leaves me some concern," Halpern said. "I'm hopeful, but concerned. The problem is we need to set up a system to find an insurance company or a self-insurance system."