Friday, January 9–Impasse Leads To Track Suspending Bets

BERLIN – At an impasse in its negotiations on the new contract with local horsemen, Ocean Downs racetrack last week announced it was suspending simulcast racing indefinitely until the issues, including closing the barns and practice track areas, can be resolved.

Track officials announced on Dec. 31 they would be forced to suspend simulcast wagering at the racetrack on Route 589 in Berlin, and at the company’s off-track betting location, the Cambridge Turf Club, as of Jan. 1, pending the resolution of a contract issue with the Ocean Downs horsemen. The contract impasse arose when track owner William Rickman, Jr. informed the horsemen late last week the backstretch area of the facility, including the sandy practice track and some of the barn areas, would close at the end of August 2009.

It is uncertain why the track owners desire to close those portions of the facility after the live meet concludes next year, but it is likely tied to Ocean Downs’ submittal of a bid to own and operate a slots venue in Worcester County, which would require a reconfiguration of the track. Rickman could not be reached for comment this week.

When Ocean Downs included the closure of the backstretch areas in the new contract in late December, talks broke off between the track owners and the horsemen. The Cloverleaf Standardbred Owners Association, which represents the horsemen, withdrew its consent for simulcasting at Ocean Downs and the offsite betting venue, the Cambridge Turf Club, also owned by Rickman.

According to the Interstate Horseracing Act, Cloverleaf, and by association, the horsemen, hold sway over where and when simulcast racing and betting can be broadcast, and when contract talks between Ocean Downs and Cloverleaf broke down just before New Year’s, the latter withdrew its consent for simulcasting at the track and at the Cambridge Turf Club.

In response, shortly after the simulcasting signal was pulled, Downs officials reportedly closed the main track and the sand jogging track to the horsemen. Track officials blamed the contract impasse on Cloverleaf and the horsemen.

“We asked Cloverleaf to agree to a brief extension of our existing contract in order to allow us to resolve the remaining issues between us,” said Downs Chief Operating Officer William Fasy. “Cloverleaf refused to agree to the extension, so we have no option but to suspend simulcasting.”

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