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Casinos back on track

Greg Risling

It’s a long way from where the turf meets the surf but Nevada casinos are swooning over old Bing Crosby’s voice again.

Horse players in Nevada have reason to celebrate the San Diego racetrack’s mid-summer return. After an eight-month impasse, California horse racing will be televised in the glitzy casinos.

On July 17, the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, the Nevada Pari-Mutuel Association and the Thoroughbred Owners of California entered into a pact that will guarantee Del Mar’s 43-day signal across the Silver State. Northern California racing at the Santa Rosa Fairgrounds is also being simulcasted to the casinos.



The agreement mends tenuous interstate relations between the NPMA, which represents 51 Nevada racebooks and horsemen in California. A flat 3 percent fee, returned to the tracks for the television signal, stalled negotiations.

Under the new terms, racetracks will be compensated on an ascending scale based on the “handle” – the amount of money bet on a race. If Nevada wagering on California ovals equals last year’s levels, all tracks will receive an increase in simulcast revenue. The more business racebooks get, the more return for the tracks.



“Time was a factor,” said Vince Magliulo, assistant vice president of race and sports for Caesar’s Palace and NPMA bargaining representative. “We were committed to finding common ground. The sliding scale is an incentive to both sides and appears to be the solution.”

In a sport that struggles constantly for its share of the market, horse racing is a small but integral part of the casinos’ take. According to Harveys Resort Hotel/Casino racebook manager Barbara Vasquez, business has been brisk since Del Mar’s opening on July 23.

“Our head count has doubled since last Wednesday,” she said. “It’s like a party in here. We are glad to see customers back and hanging in there during the fiasco.”

Los Angeles’ Hollywood Park was the first to lose its Nevada fan base last November. The pari-mutuel group wanted a long-term contract from Hollywood and the track wanted the lion’s share. Other ovals followed suit when the needed approval from both the TOC and the California Horse Racing Board were denied.

Not sending the television signal proved costly for some tracks. Santa Anita, which has fall and spring racing dates, lost approximately $800,000 during the blackout. After casinos take a large chunk of the bets, the remaining simulcast revenue is shared by the tracks, horse owners and breeders.

Nevada casinos claim their losses were minimal. Vasquez said customers’ interest turned to the East Coast courses.

The smaller, less-attended fair circuits stand to benefit most from the settlement. Prior to the agreement, fairs took in approximately 2 percent for the signal. According to TOC President John Van de Kamp, the lowest rate this year is 3 percent.

“From the owners and the tracks’ standpoint, the attraction of the ascending scale is the prospect of a greater return for California as Nevada operations grow,” Van de Kamp said.

Van de Kamp said Del Mar was the fitting place to start a domino effect with the NPMA. The remainder of the racetracks are expected to sign individual contracts containing the sliding scale stipulation.

He added the popularity of Del Mar will trigger a flood of activity in the casinos. Located 15 miles north of San Diego, the track sits on the coast and was founded by actor/singer Bing Crosby in 1937.

“This is a better deal overall,” said Van de Kamp. “Del Mar is one of the prime meetings of the year. The racebooks are delighted to have the West Coast action back.”


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