Tampa Bay Downs has doubled-down on its controversial “year-round” racing calendar for the 2014-2015 fiscal year, according to Jim Freer of The Blood-Horse magazine.
All Florida tracks and pari-mutuel wagering facilities have until Jan. 4 to submit their preliminary dates to the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering, while retaining the ability to amend those dates until the final filing deadline of Feb. 28. According to Freer, Tampa Bay Downs submitted its preliminary dates filing to the DPMW on Dec. 22, making it the first thoroughbred track to do so.
The controversy surrounding the Tampa Bay Downs meet comes from its status as a “year-round” racing facility as a result of its two-day “festival of racing” that was introduced in 2013. The two-day festival of racing was held on the last day of the previous fiscal year (June 30) and the first day of the new fiscal year (July 1). Tampa Bay Downs did not hold another race at the Oldsmar, Fla., track until it “resumed” racing on Dec. 4, which was the traditional “opening day” of its winter meet. While there may have been a five-month gap between Race Day 1 and Race Day 2, Tampa Bay Downs contended that the two days of racing at the extreme ends of the fiscal calendar qualified the track for “year-round racing” status and made it eligible to receive host track simulcasting fees for the entire year instead of only during the months that the track is actively racing.
According to Freer, the preliminary dates filing from Tampa Bay Downs starts with a single day of racing on July 1, 2014, followed by a five-month break until racing “resumes” on Nov. 29. Tampa Bay Downs will run its traditional meet until May 3, 2015, before taking a seven-week break until its “last day” of racing on June 30, 2015.
While regulators in other states exercise more discretion in granting racing dates to tracks, the DPMW has allowed each Florida track to pick their own dates and let the facilities fight it out in the marketplace.
The change in the racing dates came because of the lucrative simulcast host fee revenue that tracks receive when they serve as a host facility for simulcast wagering on races at a remote facility. Florida law grants simulcasting host fee revenue to facilities while they are actively running a meet. Consequently, Gulfstream Park and Tampa Bay Downs previously received simulcasting host fee revenue during the spring and in the month of December; however, Calder Casino and Race Course received the bulk of simulcast host fee revenue in Florida during its traditional eight-month summer meet from April-November. As a result of the changes in the racing date calendars, a significant amount of simulcast host fee revenue has shifted away from Calder to Gulfstream Park and Tampa Bay Downs.
The Blood-Horse estimates that the annual pre-tax revenue from importing simulcast signals into Florida is between $30 million and $40 million. According to Freer, half of that money goes towards purses and the other half is retained by the host track as revenue.
Whether the DPMW approves the racing date filing from Tampa Bay Downs remains to be seen. While the agency has generally approved racing dates without question in the past, it has recently proposed a rule change that would further clarify its requirements for being a host track. Freer states that the proposed rule, issued Dec. 3, would grant a facility “host track” status only while it is conducting a racing meet in consecutive weeks with a minimum of three racing programs per week. Freer indicates that the DPMW will hold a public hearing on this rule on March 3 in Tallahassee; however, there is no indication of when the agency may decide on a final rule.
Amidst this controversy, Gulfstream Park and Calder Casino and Race Course have yet to submit their preliminary dates filing to the DPMW. Freer states that Calder intends to run Friday-Sunday every weekend in the next fiscal year, while Gulfstream Park’s president Tim Ritvo has indicated that his track will run at least three days per week every month in 2014-2015. While both sides continue to talk, it’s not clear if either side is willing to surrender any ground anytime soon.
While there is certainly an abundance of racing opportunities for horsemen in the short-term, it is unclear what the long-term effect of the current racing date battle will be on the racing and breeding industries in the Sunshine State.
Photo by Cooley