TrackNet not a necessity for Nevada’s race books

TrackNet’s blackout in Nevada could last a week, a month or a year — it’s anybody’s guess. But there’s one thing I would tell TrackNet: You need Nevada a lot more than Nevada needs you.

TrackNet, which represents Churchill Downs- and Magna-owned racetracks, failed to reach a new agreement with the Nevada Pari-Mutuel Association. Since Wednesday, the signal from Golden Gate, Gulfstream, Laurel, Oaklawn and Santa Anita has been blacked out in our race books.

This is a ridiculous thing to do right now, when no industry, including gaming, is immune to the recession. TrackNet seeking a rate increase, somewhere between 50 percent to 75 percent, verges on unconscionable.

Nevada race books can book the blacked-out tracks in-house, and the wise ones — Station Casinos and Wynn Las Vegas, among others — are doing so. TrackNet facilities won’t see a dime of that money.

For decades, Nevada has promoted horse racing better than the tracks. For example, about a quarter of a million people will be in town this weekend for the Super Bowl. They’ll file into sports books that, conveniently for the racing industry, are located right next to the race books. The NCAA Tournament soon will bring even more fans to Las Vegas. Many will see horse racing for the first time on TV screens just a few feet from the basketball action. Tracks can’t buy that kind of exposure.

In the interim, the NPMA is preparing to bring in tracks such as Beulah, Philadelphia and Sunland full time. I think local players will take to Philadelphia and Sunland at the expense of two Magna tracks, Golden Gate and Laurel. The racing is better, as slot machine revenue contributes to higher purses.

Here’s another prediction. Should the blackout last into April, expect an agreement before the Arlington, Calder and Churchill meets open.

Some media reports claim Nevada has gotten a “free ride” and paid below market rate for track signals. But Nevada is not like an account deposit wagering (ADW) company, and it shouldn’t pay the same rates. Nevada pays a blended fee of about 4 percent. If an ADW can’t contract for race signals, it’s out of business. But in Nevada, race books are less profitable than slots and table games.

Race books are an amenity for the customer and an excitement base for the casino. But many casinos do just fine without race books. So if that’s the attitude that TrackNet has about Nevada, it might eventually succeed at doing something.

Richard Eng’s horse racing column is published Friday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He can be reached at rich_eng@hotmail.com.

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