CHURCHILL AND THE ADW WARS - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report


By Ray PaulickIs anyone really surprised to see Churchill Downs Inc. involved in yet another dispute with horsemen's organizations over contractual terms for account wagering or advance deposit wagering? The incident in California involving TrackNet Media, the company CDI owns in partnership with Magna Entertainment, is the latest in a series of contractual and legal disputes between the Louisville, Ky.-based company and horsemen's organizations in several states.

The common thread in all of the disagreements is an effort by Churchill Downs to squeeze as high a percentage as possible for its TwinSpires ADW platform. In so doing, purses and state breeding programs, and in some cases racetracks, will get a smaller slice from account wagering dollars.

The formation with Magna of TrackNet Media in 2007, along with the subsequent launch of TwinSpires and the purchase of the AmericaTAB account wagering company, Bloodstock Research Information Services and an interest in the Horse Racing TV cable network, has made Churchill Downs a major player in the ADW world. The company can offer content (through its racetracks), wagering services (TwinSpires, which absorbed many of the AmericaTAB customers), television distribution (HRTV) and past performance information used by horseplayers (Bloodstock Research).

CDI is also rumored to be the leading candidate to buy TVG, the largest ADW company in terms of customers and pari-mutuel handle, and with much greater distribution on cable and satellite television than HRTV. TVG is believed to be getting a larger share of account wagering revenue than any of the other ADW companies, at least in California, in part because of their investment in programming and distribution. If CDI ends up owning TVG and keeping its customers, it will be the leading ADW company in the U.S. It also may put an end to a lawsuit filed by TVG's owners against HRTV for alleged infringement of company patents.

TrackNet Media negotiates ADW contracts with racetracks, including those owned by Churchill or Magna, which is what happened in the current California dispute. In essence, then, a company owned by Churchill and Magna may be negotiating on behalf of ADW companies owned by Churchill and Magna with racetracks owned by Churchill and Magna – an interesting scenario, to say the least. In some cases, as in California, those negotiations do not include representatives of horse owners.

Many industry participants who have been following CDI's activities over the last 18 months are convinced the company is intent on moving wagers made on track or at simulcast facilities – including those owned by Churchill Downs – to its TwinSpires ADW platform. The reason? Churchill is positioning itself to make more from each dollar wagered through TwinSpires than it does from a dollar wagered on-track or at one of its off-track betting facilities.

The company has refused to negotiate with the Thoroughbred Horsemen's Group, a company formed in November 2007 to act as an agent on behalf of its members (local horsemen's organizations throughout the United States) on ADW contracts. In fact, last year, when horsemen in Kentucky and Florida exercised their rights under the Interstate Horseracing Act to cut off signals for simulcasting or account wagering, CDI sued several local horsemen's organizations and the Thoroughbred Horsemen's Group, alleging anti-trust violations.

Some parties were dropped from the suits when CDI and local horsemen's organizations reached contractual agreements on ADW revenue splits (in some cases, very short-term agreements). But at least one of the defendants, the Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, which countersued CDI, opted not to have the legal action dropped after CDI and the horsemen reached an agreement on account wagering for the 2009 Churchill Downs spring meeting.

It's an interesting case. In its counterclaim, the Kentucky HBPA pointed out a clause in the purse contract between Churchill and Kentucky horsemen that dealt specifically with possible future ownership of an account wagering company by CDI. The contract, said to be written by the Kentucky HBPA's longtime counsel, the late Don Sturgill, with Sturgill, Turner, Barker & Maloney, was executed before CDI got into the account wagering business and is effective through the end of 2009.

The counterclaim (click here for a copy) against CDI reads: “Section 4E of the contract clarifies that wagers made on races through an ADW owned by CDI, i.e. TwinSpires, are to be treated as if made physically at Churchill Downs racetrack for purposes of determining the percentage of monies to be paid into the Horsemen's Account for horsemen's purses. Section 4E specifically states:


“Telephone Account or Other Electronic Media Wagering: For purposes of determining the amount of purses to be paid under this Paragraph 4, a telephone account wager or other wager made through an electronic media wagering system, the majority of which is owned by Churchill, shall be deemed to have been made at the racetrack or Trackside (Churchill's OTB facility), as the case may be, and Churchill revenues received therefrom shall be allocated and paid to Horsemen as purses in the manner decribed in the appropriate subparagraph of this Paragraph 4. Fifty percent (50%) of any source market or other similar fees received by Churchill from telephone account wagering systems as a result of wagers made in Kentucky on races simulcast from within or outside of Kentucky shall be allocated and paid to the Horsemen as purses. For purposes of this Agreement, the term “source market” or “other fees” shall mean: any and all fees paid to Churchill and/or its horsemen by Television Games Network or any other account wagering entities not owned by Churchill for the right to accept wagers from account holders located in the state of Kentucky.”The HBPA claims that Churchill Downs has not paid horsemen in accordance with that clause in its purse contract, and estimates a $3 million shortfall in purses.

Judge John Heyburn II of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky at Louisville has ordered a Feb. 19 conference to discuss and argue the pending motions in the case. Judge Henburn also wrote a draft (which can be seen by clicking here) containing “a statement of the relevant facts and Plaintiff's (Churchill Downs) legal theory as well as discussion of the standing, statutory immunity and contract issues.”

The HBPA must feel as though they are on solid ground with their counterclaim against CDI. Otherwise, why wouldn't they have agreed with CDI to have the legal action dropped?

Account wagering has brought about many changes in the pari-mutuel industry. It's clear that what is decided now on the division of revenue, either in the courts or among horsemen, tracks and ADW companies, will have a major bearing on the future economics for horse owners, tracks and the wagering companies, as well as on the horseplayers who fuel the game.

Let's hope these issues are resolved while we still have people interested in betting on our sport.

The Paulick Report is interested in what you think about this issue. Write a publilc comment in the section below, and take the Daily Paulick Poll (located on the left-hand column of the home page) about whether you think it's in the best interests of horsemen and fans for Churchill Downs Inc. to purchase TVG.

Copyright © 2009, The Paulick Report


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