By T. D. Thornton
The present and former owners of Belterra Park have filed a motion to toss out a federal lawsuit filed by the Ohio Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association (OHBPA) that seeks to recoup more than $2.7 in gaming revenues that the OHBPA alleges the track wrongfully withheld between 2014 and 2018.
According to a motion to dismiss filed Feb. 16 in United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio (Eastern Division), the defendants are alleging that “OHBPA has failed to state any viable claims against Defendants. OHBPA's cleverly labeled claims are nothing more than an attempt to plead around the fact that there is no private right of action under the relevant Ohio statute or regulation. Quite simply, OHBPA has no right to receive the “catch up” payments and only the Racing Commission is authorized to enforce [the relevant state codes] and the Resolution.”
Back on Dec. 18, the OHBPA's suit contended that Belterra never made good on a four-year difference between a placeholder rate first established for video lottery terminal (VLT) gaming and the eventually revised rate, which it claims totals $2,769,652.
“The OHBPA has been deprived of these funds, which go directly toward the benefit of horse breeding and horse racing in Ohio,” the OHBPA contended in its suit (which is explained in greater detail here).
On Tuesday, the defendants outlined a four-plank argument for dismissing the lawsuit:
“First, OHBPA has no right to the claimed payments under the relevant statutory or regulatory scheme, and even if it did, there is no private right of action for it to enforce the statute or regulation. Although OHBPA crafts its attempt at enforcing the statutes and regulations as tort claims, those claims fail.
“Second, the applicable statute, rules, and resolution regulating the payment of the VLT
commission percentage rates to the horsemen's associations are not retroactive. Therefore,
in contravention of an express contract and statutory and rule authority vested in the Racing
Commission, OHBPA is asking this Court to order Defendants to go back in time and pay
OHBPA additional funds for the time period between May 1, 2014 and July 1, 2018. Quite simply, OHBPA has no right to any extra payments and no authority to bring this action.
“Third, because OHBPA has no right to possess the payments Defendants' retention of
those payment cannot be wrongful, and therefore, its claim for conversion fails.
“Finally, OHBPA's claim for unjust enrichment fails because (a) there is an express contract covering the same subject, which precludes the unjust enrichment claim, (b) OHBPA has not conferred a benefit on Defendants, and (c) Defendants' non-payment of the purported extra VLT
commission rate payments is not “unjust” because OHBPA has no right to those payments…. Defendants have paid all amounts required to be paid and distributed according to Ohio law. As such, Defendants respectfully request that the Court dismiss OHBPA's Complaint.”
Belterra Park itself is named as a defendant, as is the racino's current owner/operator, Boyd Gaming Corporation. Pinnacle Entertainment, Inc., (which, according to the suit, owned Belterra between 2011 and 2018) and Penn National Gaming, Inc. (which, according to the suit, briefly had an ownership interest in Belterra in 2018), are also listed as defendants.