Horseplayers ‘mad as hell’ over Churchill Downs’ increased takeout


There is no good time for releasing bad news. Thus, when Churchill Downs announced a big takeout increase for the season that starts on April 26, the anger of horseplayers overflowed.

It’s actually a complex issue. But the core group that always gets the shaft is the customers who support horse racing with their betting dollars.

Churchill is increasing the takeout from 16.0 to 17.5 percent on straight bets and from 19.0 to 22.0 on exotic wagers. The takeout at Kentucky tracks is mandated by state law with the threshold at $1.2 million in daily average on-track handle.

When Churchill took over less desirable dates from Turfway Park late last fall, that meet average fell below $1.2 million. Thus, Churchill had the opening it needed to legally increase its takeout.

The news came on the heels of Churchill spending $12 million on a new video screen in the infield. The screen is the size of three NBA courts placed side by side.

I even tweeted out that this board was “built on the sweat equity of the nation’s horseplayers.” And that was before the announcement of the takeout increase.

Churchill has claimed they need the added revenue to keep its purses at their current level. What bean counters gloss over in their projections is they expect overall handle to stay the same. That never happens. When a track raises its takeout, overall handle will decrease.

One group that is hoping to send a message to Churchill Downs parent company CDI is HANA, the Horseplayers Association of North America. They are calling for a betting boycott of Churchill.

Most betting boycotts have failed badly. Many horseplayers just don’t seem to care about takeout. However, this boycott may grow legs. I base that on the intense emotional reactions I’ve seen on social media.

Like the Peter Finch character Howard Beale on “Network” proclaimed, “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore.”

Horseplayers may finally have reached the brink.

There is more fodder to think this boycott may have an impact. For example, Fair Grounds fans are irate over the treatment the CDI owned track is getting.

Jeff Duncan of the Times-Picayune recently wrote a scathing column on CDI saying this: “Once one of the premier tracks in the nation, the Fair Grounds now has been reduced to a shell of itself.”

Personally, I still fester resentment for what CDI did to the now defunct Hollywood Park. I understand why they sold the track to the highest bidder, which was a land development company.

If CDI had cared about the sport, they could have accepted less money from a group that would have guaranteed the future of horse racing at Hollywood Park.

But accepting less money would have infuriated the CDI shareholders. And that’s where the rub is. All CDI decisions are based on maximizing profits to bonus its executives and reward shareholders.

Unfortunately for horse racing, doing what is right and what is most profitable are seldom the same. And the only vote us horseplayers ever have is with our wallets.

Richard Eng’s horse racing column is published Friday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Reach him at rich_eng@hotmail.com. Follow him @richeng4propick on Twitter.