NV simulcasts and pari-mutuel betting may resume Friday

The familiar voice of Santa Anita race caller Trevor Denman is sure to be music to horseplayers’ ears this weekend.

After an 18-day blackout by TrackNet, players at Nevada race books will finally be able to root home their picks while watching races from Santa Anita, Gulfstream and three other tracks.

A verbal  agreement was reached Thursday between TrackNet and the Nevada Pari-Mutuel Association. Pari-mutuel pools should be open by Friday and no later than Saturday, pending signatures and regulatory approval.

TrackNet, a partnership of Magna and Churchill racetracks, blacked out five tracks to Nevada casinos beginning on Jan. 26 when the extension ended on an expired contract. During the standoff, horseplayers in 80 Nevada casinos could not watch races or see odds from Santa Anita, Gulfstream, Golden Gate, Oaklawn and Laurel.

Several casinos booked bets, although race parlors had lots of empty seats.

TrackNet and the casinos were haggling over how much of each wagering dollar should go to the tracks and how much the casinos could keep.

Published reports said that TrackNet was asking for a 75 percent increase from the estimated 4-to-5 percent that casinos currently pay. The terms of the new deal were not announced, but TrackNet’s chief executive told the Daily Racing Form that a compromise was reached on a multi-year contract.

“We ultimately came up with something we both could agree with,” said Scott Daruty. “If you ask them, I’m sure they would say they are paying too much. If you asked us, we would say they aren’t paying enough.”

Both Magna Entertainment and Churchill Downs bought several tracks over the last decade, so their combined bargaining position with the casinos is stronger than in the past. But with the United States’ economy in one of its worst economic recessions in history, it seemed senseless for racing to alienate customers with a long blackout.

Last year, Thoroughbred pari-mutuel wagering in the United States, dropped 7.2 percent from $14.72 billion in 2007  to $13.67 billion in 2008 — its lowest total since 1998, according to Equibase.

Also, Las Vegas casino room rates are being slashed and casino gaming win is in decline. The economic picture looks even bleaker for Magna Entertainment, which lost at least $87 million every year from 2005 to 2007. And in the first nine months of 2008, Magna lost another $116 million, according to its third quarter earnings report.

So, with betting dollars in decline, racetracks and casinos both losing money, and Nevada horseplayers eager to flood casino betting windows with cash, reaching a quick compromise made too much sense.

I’m just glad that racing and gaming leaders saw things that way also.

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