There is a classic Joni Mitchell song “Big Yellow Taxi” where she sings “don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone …”
Some of us old-timers might be humming that tune right now to some of the horse racing simulcast signals missing in Nevada during the fourth quarter of 2019. It started with a second-tier racetrack Mahoning Valley Race Course in Youngstown, Ohio.
Mahoning Valley opened its winter meet on Oct. 25 but their signal was not available in Nevada. The process here is all of the race books in Las Vegas, Laughlin, Reno-Tahoe, et al are members of the Nevada Pari-Mutuel Association.
The NPMA is a non-profit corporation that allows all of the race book operators to negotiate as one entity. So every racetrack or racing organization must negotiate a contract with the NPMA that designates an agreed upon rate. Once that is signed we’ll get our decoders turned on and it’s literally off to the races.
So when the Mahoning Valley signal was not available in Nevada, in all candor, I did not hear a peep.
However, two days later on Oct. 27 Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., opened. When the NPMA and Churchill Downs Incorporated (CDI) could not reach a contract agreement, their signal was blacked out in Nevada, too.
The Churchill fall meet is a good one. High-quality horse racing with full fields that horseplayers love to bet into. So when Churchill was blacked out there was consternation among the horseplayers in Nevada.
Now I have been in Vegas for more than two decades. I have seen these spats come and go between the NPMA and a racetrack.
Typically what happens is we’ll miss a day or two of racing but then cooler heads will prevail. A contract will get signed and it’s business as usual. The key is neither side wants to see good money go down the drain.
But that didn’t happen with Churchill Downs. Day after day. Week after week. No contract. No simulcast signal. And on closing day, Dec. 1, not a single race from the legendary track was shown or bet upon in Nevada.
The impasse continued when Turfway Park in Florence, Ky., opened on Dec. 4. Turfway is owned by CDI.
Churchill has the Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve as leverage. May 2, 2020, is a long way away. But it will eventually get here. My guess is CDI is willing to sacrifice dimes today for dollars tomorrow.
The real losers in this dispute are the Nevada horseplayers. The sport of horse racing needs us more than we need them. We can bet on other racing signals instead. And there is no shortage of sports betting in this market either.
Hopefully the two sides will eventually compromise and get a deal done. Compromise is not a bad word. It just means both sides give in a little bit while keeping their customers happy.
Richard Eng is the author of “Betting on Horse Racing for Dummies”, an introductory book for newcomers to the sport of horse racing. For two decades, he was the turf editor and handicapper for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He still handicaps the Southern California tracks and his picks are for sale at www.racedaylasvegas.com. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @richeng4propick and on Facebook.com.