REPLAY: Sports, May 13, 1997 When Playfair Race Course opens for on-site racing in August, it will probably offer full-card simulcast wagering on a southern California track. Playfair will not carry Turf Paradise in Phoenix as its one full-card during the live meet in Spokane, Playfair general manager Kim Rich said. A story Sunday indicated otherwise.
They won’t taste it for another three months but Inland Northwest horsemen have cut into their first slice of a long-awaited pie in the sky.
More than $12,000 went into the purse account at Playfair Race Course last week - the horsemen’s cut from simulcast wagering here on five tracks nationwide, Playfair director of racing Ted Martin said.
After nearly 10 years of decline and gloom, the mode of track officials appears to be shifting from survival to expansion.
Although the potential negative effect of nationwide competition on the betting handle at Washington state’s three major tracks has yet to be measured, early returns from the state’s new simulcast wagering law are encouraging, at least at Playfair.
The Spokane track opens for 54 days of on-site racing on Aug. 16. Until then, the 62-year-old facility is an off-track betting site for Churchill Downs, Lone Star, Hollywood Park, Golden Gate and Emerald Downs.
Taking races from major tracks is not the most exciting aspect of the new state law, Martin said.
When Playfair launches its on-site race meet in three months, it hopes to play to more than just an in-state audience.
Playfair officials want to send their signal to off-track betting sites in the East, through New York OTB, at a time when most other racing facilities are closed.
So look for Playfair to ask the state racing commission for permission to go four nights a week with its live racing program.
“The people who want to buy our signal - the Eastern tracks - want us to start at 5 p.m.,” Martin said. “We’re looking very strongly at going Fridays, Saturdays, Mondays and Tuesdays starting at 5 p.m. Turf Paradise (Phoenix) did this last year. So did Los Alamitos (California). They benefitted from it.”
Although it’s still early in a new game, Martin said the Spokane track is exploring other markets as well.
“We’re going to try to get into Las Vegas (among other places),” he said.
A wider audience - and a potentially healthy bottom line - puts even more pressure on the racing secretary to recruit enough horses to fill races.
“We’ve got to give them full fields,” Martin acknowledged. “I’m very pleased with the reception we’re getting from horsemen. We haven’t put out stall applications yet and already we’re getting calls from horsemen who want to run in our time frame (August through mid-November).”
Martin expects 18 Washington state off-track locations to carry Playfair’s signal while the Spokane track and Emerald Downs overlap. Emerald closes on Sept. 29. Until then, Playfair can’t send its signal to any location within 60 miles of Emerald Downs - except to Native American casinos including the Muckleshoot Tribal Casino in Auburn, 8 miles from Emerald Downs, Martin said.
The Muckleshoot will carry Playfair under terms of the gaming compact with the state.
The tribal council still hopes to assume operations at Playfair, Martin said. Until the Muckleshoot question is resolved, Playfair will continue to operate as Playfair Racing Inc., or Old Playfair, Martin said.
For now, track officials hope to build interest in off-track betting that got off to an encouraging start, Martin said. “We had more than 800 here on Kentucky Derby Day (May 3),” he said. “There are things we’re listening to, to see if we can make some improvements, but we got up and running with very few hitches.”
The Derby Day crowd wagered $115,344 in Spokane on the first big day of full-card simulcasting in Washington state, Martin said.
“It’s going to keep us going,” he said. “According to the new law, half of any net profit from simulcasting - and when we sell our signal - goes into the purse fund. When we get up and running live, and send our signal out, we’ll only be able to get probably about 3 percent of it. Half of that, or 1-1/2 percent, goes to the purse fund. It’s very beneficial to the horsemen.”
A bet on an Emerald race in the past put nothing in the Playfair purse account, Martin said, “But now, when people bet on Emerald here, half of the net profit we get goes into the (local) purse account.”
So, after going dark last year and struggling through a winter meet, is the worst over for the battered local thoroughbred racing industry?
“I think it’s settled down now,” Martin said. “Now we have to get to work - quit fighting this thing - and accept it for what we can do with it. We were never against full-card simulcasting here. We just wanted (the law) to extend to the (off-track) sites, so people in places like Moses Lake could have the same advantages that people in Spokane have.”
The new law allows full-card simulcasting at the state’s three major tracks only, not at off-track sites such as Moses Lake or Bellingham.
When Playfair goes live on Aug. 16 it can carry only one full racing program from out of state. That will likely be Turf Paradise, Martin said.
Playfair officials may ask the commission to allow it to add New York and Florida tracks, to conform to the progressive off-track betting program in place at Greyhound Park in Post Falls.
This is where a glitch opens up under the new Washington law.
Playfair is allowed to operate off-track betting only 12 hours a day, five days a week. The day starts when mutuel windows open. If the Spokane track, for example, starts offering Florida or New York at 10 a.m., it can handle no race after 10 p.m. With a 7 o’clock start on Friday nights, Hollywood Park’s last race is at 10:30.
Playfair customers might find themselves on Fridays joining eastern tracks in progress.
Martin says he has to work hard to keep up with change.
“Right now it takes about 30 days to get the OK to have a new track come up (here),” he said. “Golden Gate closes on June 15. We have to get with the program to add another one. We’re looking at Ellis Park (Kentucky), Arlington (Illinois) and the California fairs.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo