Association questions Fair Grounds’ purse calculations _lowres

Photo by Lynn Roberts/Hodges Photography -- Palace Malice, ridden by Mike Smith, pulls away from Normandy Invasion to capture the 90th running of the Grade II New Orleans Handicap on March 29 at the Fair Grounds.

The Louisiana Horsemen’s Benevolent & Protective Association is questioning the Fair Grounds’ calculations that led to significant purse reductions for the upcoming thoroughbred racing season, a situation track officials say they hope to resolve in a meeting early next month.

“We’ve let them know that we want to sit down and talk through any concerns that they have about how we arrived at the purse projections,” Fair Grounds President Tim Bryant said Thursday. “We’ve felt that we’ve made a good faith estimate of projections. They have some questions surrounding that, so we’re going to sit down and talk with them face-to-face.

“I’m sure we can arrive at something that’s agreeable.”

Bryant indicated that could include restoring some of the $2.7 million in reductions the track announced last week for its upcoming season, which begins on Nov. 21. The reductions mean a 30 percent decrease in stakes purses, including a $400,000 cut for the Louisiana Derby, a 17 percent decrease in overnight purses and outright cancellation of 15 stakes races.

In doing so, the Fair Grounds cited litigation filed by a group of Louisiana quarter horse owners, trainers and jockeys claiming an underpayment of video poker revenue for their races. The LHBPA is also a defendant in the lawsuit.

The Fair Grounds release also said the reductions were made in consultation with the LHBPA, which represents the state’s horsemen. However, a letter to Bryant posted on the association’s website on Thursday, says the group was not consulted.

The letter also says that the amount of escrowed funds to cover the litigation was only $700,000 and that the Fair Grounds was projecting what the LHBPA considers an overestimation of a decrease in pari-mutuel wagering, slots and video poker revenue to arrive at the $2.7 million figure.

That is despite the Fair Grounds making some $2 million improvements in its operations, including repairing the turf course and upgrading customer services.

“The purse money is based on calculations of projected revenues from a number of sources,” Bryant said. “But you basically wind up needing a crystal ball and you need some flexibility.

“If your projected revenues are not high enough, you have to continue to make adjustments throughout the meet in order to be within the law, which states we have to be within two days or purposes at the end of the meet. It’s obviously not easy to project.”

Last February, overnight purses were reduced by 10 percent and several stakes purses were cut as well when revenues fell short of projections.

LHBPA Chairman Benard Chatters of Lake Charles did not return phone calls requesting comment on the letter, which was sent over his signature.

The letter states that the calculations, especially those concerning decreases in local slots and video poker revenues and especially pari-mutuel wagering revenue (15 percent) and other assumptions are not based on a factual basis.

The letter also questions how the changes to the turf course and improved customer service cannot be projected to have a positive financial impact.

Bryant pointed out that more than 90 percent of the revenue received during the meet comes from out-of-state wagering, but added, “We’re very optimistic that the work and the things are we’re doing should help benefit the Fair Grounds locally, especially with the customer enhancements.

“There is an opportunity at the local level that we’re very optimistic about.”

Bryant said he could not comment on the status of the quarter horse litigation and attorneys representing the group did not respond to phone calls requesting comment as well.

With the backside barns at the Fair Grounds opening Oct. 5, Bryant said he felt that coming to an understanding with the LHBPA would occur in time to attract more quality horses to the meet.

“We want to be collaborative,” Bryant said. “And we have responded to the LHBPA’s questions and concerns.

“I am confident that we can reach an agreement that will rectify this and make them happy.”