Columbus, OH --- County fairs in Ohio will receive more than $1.9 million this year under a resolution approved April 29 by the Ohio State Racing Commission.
The resolution came about after a request from the Ohio Harness Horsemen’s Association for use of video lottery terminal funds held in an escrow account. The money will increase the base purse for Ohio fair stakes for 2- and 3-year-old pacers and trotters to $3,923, a level not seen since 2000, OHHA executive secretary Jerry Knappenberger said.
Almost $1.5 million of the county fair allotment will go to purses, and about $460,000 for operations at 94 fairs. The 65 fairs that host harness racing, most of it pari-mutuel, will get about five times what the non-racing fairs receive.
Last year the fairs earned about $1 million from VLT revenue.
“Everybody is very excited to race for more money,” Knappenberger said, “and the fairs are happy not losing money on harness racing and having money to use for other things.”
Ohio moved to number two nationally in the number of Standardbred mares bred in 2013. A growing foal crop should lead to more horses participating at the fairs, some of which used to card 15 or more races per program.
The OHHA projects the base fair purse could range from $4,500-$5,000 as early as 2015. Before VLTs became operational at Ohio racetracks, the fairs relied on one-half of 1% of pari-mutuel revenue, which has been in decline for many years.
“That’s pretty good for our friends at the Ohio fairs,” OSRC chairman Robert Schmitz said.
Northfield Park and the Ohio Harness Horsemen’s Association remain in negotiations to reach an agreement on the escrow of video lottery terminal funds as well as a regular contract to set the percentage of VLT revenue that will go toward purses.
The issue was discussed April 29 during the Ohio State Racing Commission meeting.
The Northfield Park Hard Rock Rocksino began operating gaming machines in December 2013, and since that time the minimum of 9% allowed by law has been set aside for purses. The track and OHHA must agree upon a percentage by mid-June; if not the OSRC has the power to determine the amount.
“There have been arduous and cooperative discussions regarding the escrow agreement,” said Tom Aldrich, vice president of Milstein Entertainment, which owns Northfield Park. “We had proposed some changes, which we think are modest in nature. We want the escrow agreement done so we can move forward.”
OSRC chairman Robert Schmitz again reminded Northfield Park officials of the statutory deadline.
"We understand the consequences of not being at or near an agreement," Aldrich said.
Northfield Park has increased purses several times since an overpayment was repaid.
Miami Valley Gaming & Racing also has a June deadline to reach a purse agreement with the OHHA. Miami Valley general manager Jerry Simms and OHHA president Steve McCoy said the two parties have made progress on determining the VLT share to purses.
Scioto Downs Racino and the OHHA already have a contract for VLT revenue. So do two Thoroughbred tracks: ThistleDown Racino and Hollywood Gaming at Mahoning Valley Race Course. The Ohio Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association said it has a contract for roughly an average of 10.5% of VLT revenue for those two tracks.