06/28/2013 1:28PM

Tampa Bay: Track holds summer card to qualify as betting hub

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Tampa Bay Downs in Oldsmar, Fla., will run an unprecedented mid-summer card on Sunday to qualify as a year-round live racetrack under the state’s statutes, allowing the track to import simulcast signals without paying another Florida racetrack for the rights.

The Sunday card, which drew only 53 entries for eight races, for an average field size of 6.6 horses per race, will officially end Tampa’s 2012-2013 racing season. Tampa also will run a live card on Monday to kick off its 2013-2014 racing season, before going dark until the start of its traditional racing season in early December.

Under quirks in the state’s racing regulations, the mid-summer cards will qualify Tampa as a year-round live-racing facility, meaning that it can import simulcast signals without using another track as a broker even when closed for live racing for months at a time. Under the law, a “live-racing facility” can import its own signals without brokering with another track for the signals, and, furthermore, that facility is entitled to sell the signals to “dark” pari-mutuel facilities in the state and retain two-thirds of the simulcast revenue.

In earlier years, Tampa Bay had to contract with Calder Race Course in Miami for simulcast signals while it was dark. According to Tampa’s general manger, Peter Berube, Tampa will now not only retain 100 percent of the revenue from its simulcasting operations but will sell its signals to other pari-mutuel facilities in the state.

“We’re always looking at ways we can improve our purse position, and this is a way to do it,” Berube said.

“We don’t have any horses in the barn area, so we didn’t know what was going to happen. We decided to go forward on kind of an experimental basis, but seeing the results with the entries, I would think we’d send the signal out next year.”

Betting for the Sunday and Monday cards will be limited to ontrack patrons, with no export of the track’s simulcast signal. Because no horses are currently stabled at the track, Berube said that track officials were uncertain whether the two cards would fill, so they were hesitant about going through the work and expense to reach simulcast contracts.

Although he declined to provide specific figures for how much purses might benefit, he said that the track’s purse structure during the meet that begins in December will likely increase by “double digits” in percentage over last year.

Gulfstream Park in the Miami area is employing the same strategy. Last Tuesday, it held a race card to qualify as a year-round live racing facility as well. Gulfstream Park plans to run live on weekends this year throughout the summer.

Calder, which is the only track in Florida that has run live racing during the summer for the past several decades, has filed a challenge to the designation of both Gulfstream and Tampa as year-round live racing facilities. Calder, which is owned by Churchill Downs Inc., has stated in filings with the state’s Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering that the decision to grant the designations amounted to a “completely new interpretation” of state law and a “novel definition” of a live race meet.

“The agency statement defined as rules essentially entitle any permit-holder in the state to request, be granted, and conduct nominal racing dates on the periphery of the fiscal year as the legal basis for offering simulcast wagering throughout the entire fiscal year completely irrespective of when the permit-holder actually conducts live racing,” Calder argued in a filing with the division.

The division was scheduled to conduct a hearing on the matter on Friday, though no decisions were expected to come out of the hearing.