Race handle down statewide as TrackNet blackout lingers

With the Nevada blackout of Santa Anita and four other TrackNet racetracks in its second week, race book directors say the effect is evident.

Handle is down statewide, although directors at various race books contacted this week could not provide specific numbers for their operations.

Those book directors have used alternate signals to fill the void, with the replacements — Sunland Park, Philadelphia Park and Beulah Park — drawing minimal play. Business has increased, however, on racing from Aqueduct in New York and the Fair Grounds in Louisiana, some directors report.

TrackNet — which represents Churchill Downs and Magna Entertainment and controls the signal for 17 racetracks — and the Nevada Pari-Mutuel Association — which represents the state’s 80 race books — failed to reach a new deal by Jan. 28, the first day of racing after an extension to the old contract expired Jan. 25.

This marks the 11th day of the blackout. The sides have had conversations since Jan. 28, most recently on Monday, but are not close to a resolution, according to those involved in the negotiations.

Meanwhile, the books are trying to keep things as normal as possible.

"It’s off a little bit," said Jay Kornegay, the director of race and sports for the Las Vegas Hilton, which is not booking the blacked-out tracks. "Our players have adjusted. They’re not playing as much, but they’re playing other tracks.

"We thought about offering it, but it’s a very labor-intensive thing to do. Our customers basically said they didn’t want it, so they essentially made the decision for us."

Properties such as Station Casinos that are handling non-pari-mutuel action on the blacked-out tracks — which include Gulfstream in Florida, Oaklawn in Arkansas and Laurel in Maryland, along with the California tracks — have seen a significant drop-off, although no specific numbers were provided.

Most horseplayers are reluctant to bet without being able to watch the outcome or track the odds, not to mention the limited menu and the capped payouts on winning wagers.

"You’re not getting people sitting through a whole day of racing as before," said Art Manteris, Stations’ vice president of race and sports. "But by offering non-pari-mutuel, we’re able to accommodate someone who is following a particular horse and wants to bet on it."

Jay Rood, director of race and sports for MGM Mirage, said he wanted to give his customers an option and is offering non-pari-mutuel wagering on the blacked-out tracks.

"Obviously, the players would like to see the signal, but even though our handle is down, we wanted to give our customers a choice to place a bet if they want to," Rood said.

Some horseplayers are finding a way around the blackout. One option is driving to Kingman, Ariz., which has off-track betting, the TrackNet signal and a full betting menu. Others are wagering in the morning at a race book, then going home to watch the races on HRTV, which is available on satellite television but not Cox cable.

Still others are using a more modern approach. At Red Rock, a bettor used his laptop computer and a wireless Internet connection to access Santa Anita’s Web site, where he watched the races live on streaming video. As each race neared, the bettor found himself with seven or eight new "friends" who gazed over his shoulder at the screen.

His only complaint? The non-pari-mutuel pools were closed five minutes before each race, forcing him and the others to make their wagers early.

Contact reporter Steve Carp at scarp@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2913.

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