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Fair Grounds races are off the board in Nevada

By Ron Flatter  (VSiN.com) 

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Las Vegas

So much for a cheery Thanksgiving column to count the blessings of Friday’s Clark Stakes and Saturday’s Hollywood Derby and the hope for an on-time racing season with grandstands full of fans in 2021.

Like the annual reunion of a family that loves one another but cannot stand being in the same room, the kids are fighting again. In this case, they are adolescents that go by the names Churchill Downs Inc., the NASDAQ corporation, and the Nevada Pari-Mutuel Association, the racebook cartel.

Instead of screaming and yelling at one another, they are using cold shoulders in their fight that has roped in the new season at the Fair Grounds Race Course. The 182-year-old track in suburban New Orleans is owned by CDI. This week it became the latest to freeze out horseplayers who use Nevada casinos and their apps as their betting conduits.

“We asked, but they will not offer us a contract,” one casino source with knowledge of the negotiations – or lack of them – told VSiN.

This represents a change from last season, when Fair Grounds races actually were on offer under an expiring contract. It was the same thing that happened with Churchill Downs, the racetrack, and the reason why Nevada casinos were forced to book this year’s Kentucky Derby on their own –  complete with fierce wagering and pay-out limits.

“We may have seen the last pari-mutuel bet in Nevada on Churchill’s tracks,” the source said, speaking the hard-line language that the NPMA has taken since its dispute with CDI fully flowered last October.

It seems like it has been longer, but it has been 13 months since the two sides dug in their feet over – what else? – money. The argument – or lack of it – has been over what percentage of Nevada bets should go to CDI. It was said to have been 6¾ cents on every dollar under expired deals. Churchill supposedly wants 7½ cents. That was early this year, when the two sides actually spoke to one another.

The two sides are also not speaking about this publicly. At least not to VSiN. Longtime NPMA executive director Patty Jones has not responded to easily dozens of requests for comment in the past year, including a call Wednesday morning. CDI vice president Patrick Troutman, who is the company’s negotiator, did not return Tuesday calls. Neither did CDI spokeswoman Tonya Abeln. (But she did add me Tuesday in a Twitter follow.)

So an important venue for winter and spring racing will apparently go untouched by legal Nevada dollars. Want to bet the Lecomte and the Risen Star and the Fair Grounds Oaks and the Louisiana Derby in Las Vegas? Pound sand. Literally.

Mountaineer Park quietly went away, too. Its executives did not offer the NPMA a contract, according to the casino source. Apparently, the dollars coming out of Nevada were not worth the bother in West Virginia’s Northern Panhandle.

There are not many of those dollars anymore. In what has become a chicken-and-egg tale, pari-mutuel racing handle is dwindling in the alleged capital of American gambling, one that in so many ways looks more anachronistic by the day. Horseplayers will say it is because of obstacles like the CDI-NPMA fight. Casino execs will say that they lose clout with racetracks because fewer and fewer dollars are being wagered.

Throw in the Nevada state legislature’s refusal to legalize advanced-deposit wagering platforms, and we are talking about a cycle that will lead to a scorched earth. Churchill wants to bleed every cent it can out of Nevada. As Nevada stubbornly refuses to budge over those very few cents, it offers fewer and fewer racetracks. The customer base of horseplayers erodes. Unable to legally use ADWs because Carson City wants to protect the shrinking product of the racebooks, those players either stay out of state or bet the races through unregulated and even illegal means.

Want to know what it was like when Bugsy Siegel dropped anchor in the Nevada desert 89 years ago? Just wait and see what it looks like around here for horseplayers in another 10 years.

Ron Flatter’s racing column is available every Friday morning at VSiN.com and more frequently during coverage of big races, including. You may also hear the Ron Flatter Racing Pod at VSiN.com/podcasts. The current episode features two Grade 1 races. Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey talks about Code Of Honor’s run in Friday’s Clark Stakes and Performer’s bid to win next week’s Cigar Mile. Mike Shutty, creator of the Super Screener, previews this week’s Clark and the Kentucky Jockey Club stakes at Churchill Downs. VSiN’s Vinny Magliulo handicaps races at Aqueduct and Del Mar. There is also a comment on the closing of Gulfstream Park West, a.k.a. Calder Race Course. The RFRP is available for download and free subscription at Apple, Google, iHeart, Spotify, Stitcher and at VSiN.com/podcasts. It is sponsored by 1/ST BET.

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