03/11/2003 12:00AM

Tampa, Gulf fight over simulcasts

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A legal dispute has erupted in Florida between Tampa Bay Downs and Gulfstream Park over the redistribution of simulcast signals throughout the state.

At stake are the revenues each track derives from reselling out-of-state simulcast signals to sites in Florida's intertrack network, which includes two dozen harness tracks, greyhound parks, and jai alai frontons. The intertrack sites are popular among horseplayers as local outlets for full-card simulcasts.

In a series of declaratory judgments, lawsuits, and counterclaims exchanged over the past six months, Gulfstream has argued that Tampa Bay is violating the contracts Gulfstream signed with Fair Grounds and the New York Racing Association. Those contracts give Gulfstream the exclusive right to redistribute simulcast signals in Florida outside of each track's statutory market area, which is defined as within a 60-mile radius of each track.

Tampa Bay has argued that the exclusive contracts violate state law, and that it has the right to sell simulcast signals to any Florida site outside of Gulfstream's market area.

Under Florida state law, Thoroughbred tracks are required to distribute any simulcast signals they import to the intertrack sites. The dispute hinges on whether one track can restrict those rights.

The conflict arose late last year when Tampa Bay Downs began reselling simulcast signals it imported from out-of-state tracks to intertrack sites in Florida that had typically bought the same signals from Gulfstream. Tampa enticed the sites to take the signals by promising them a bigger cut of the revenue than Gulfstream offered, officials for both sides acknowledged.

Gulfstream claimed foul in late January this year, filing a lawsuit. Tampa responded with a declaratory judgment from Florida's Division of Parimutuel Wagering that said Gulfstream's exclusive contracts violated state racing law. Tampa had requested the judgment in September 2002, in an effort to increase its market share for simulcast signals in the state. Tampa has also filed a counterclaim to Gulfstream's suit.

Officials for the tracks declined to comment this week on the lawsuits,.

Kent Stirling, the executive director of the Florida Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, said Tampa's aggressive pricing for the simulcast signals has hurt purses at Gulfstream Park, claiming that simulcast handle on Gulfstream's redistributed signals is down 35 percent. Horsemen typically get approximately one-third of the revenue from the signals for purses.