By Dan Ross
With many wheels of California's daily industry operations greased through wagering made at bricks and mortar venues, a pandemic-driven wholesale betting shift towards ADW platforms has thrown a sizeable wrench into the works, prompting something of a fiscal scramble to readjust.
Just last week, the Southern California Stabling & Vanning Racing Committee announced a set of stop-gap funding measures to grapple with a $2-million deficit and maintain the stabling status-quo in the southern portion of the state during 2021.
On Wednesday, the Thoroughbred Owners of California (“TOC”) announced a new “purse enhancement” program with TVG, Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, and The Stronach Group's 1/ST Racing to inject up to $15 million into California Thoroughbred purses in 2021 and 2022.
“California racing has always been very important to TVG, and we are committed to continuing our support of the racing industry here, especially given the challenging circumstances the industry faced in 2020,” said TVG CEO Kip Levin, in the press release. “We feel the right strategy is to partner with the stakeholders to further strengthen what has always been a premier racing circuit in the United States.”
In October, the TDN reported that during the first eight months of 2020–when compared to the same period in 2018–the number of races had declined 30%, and while the overall handle declined 18.8%, purses dropped more than 26%.
During that time, overall purses in the state dropped from about $87 million in 2018 to around $64 million in 2020–a near 30% decline. The press release, however, makes a number of financial projections under the new agreement.
Santa Anita Park recently announced a 10% across the board purse increase for its 2020-2021 Winter/Spring Meet, putting the daily purse average around the $533,000 mark, making Santa Anita Park “competitive with the top circuits in the U.S. despite not receiving any casino revenues or government subsidies,” the press release states.
Under the new program, the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club is projected to increase average daily purse levels to over $600,000 in 2021.
“This is a great development for California horse racing,” said Craig Fravel, The Stronach Group's CEO of Racing. “Along with our horsemen and regulators, we instituted historic safety reforms starting in 2019. We believe these reforms and the enhanced purses previously announced have created a great racing environment that has already attracted top stakes horses, trainers and riders from all over the country to our current Santa Anita Winter/Spring meet.”
Del Mar's president, Josh Rubinstein, said that, “Coming off our extraordinarily successful summer and fall meets in 2020, these increased purses, coupled with the growing excitement for the 2021 Breeders' Cup World Championships, sets us up for a fantastic 2021.”
According to TOC president, Greg Avioli, “This unprecedented level of partnership among California's horsemen and women, FanDuel/TVG, The Stronach Group and Del Mar is just the beginning. With sports wagering on the horizon and its potential to both add millions more to purse accounts and to create new horse players, combined with the successful safety and welfare measures instituted over the last two years by our race tracks, we are well on the way to returning California to its historic place as the country's premier racing circuit.”
There is pushback, however. According to the Paulick Report, Churchill Downs Inc.'s ADW company, TwinSpires, does not go along with the agreement-prefaced upon ADW platforms accepting a lower fee on all wagers from California residents-and the matter will reportedly go to arbitration.