The Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, a nonprofit organization, represents racehorse owners, trainers and their employees across America and in Canada. Until the HBPA was formed in 1940, horsemen had no representation in regards to purse schedules, safety issues, working conditions and their general well being on the backside of racetracks.
Established in the early 1970’s, the Washington HBPA is the official representative association for licensed owners and trainers of horses racing at Emerald Downs in Auburn Washington. Originally an affiliate of the National HBPA, the organization has been a stand alone corporation since 1992, but maintains a close association with the National HBPA membership. In the early years, the sport of horse racing seemed simpler. There was no simulcasting, discussion of appropriate marketing strategies, super testing, or betting via direct computer links. Today there are over 35 thousand (35,000) owner and trainer HPBA members throughout the United States and Canada focused on a common goal -- the betterment of racing on all levels. We are tied together by our passion for the thoroughbred industry and by the racing signals we share. The National HBPA is a gathering place for educating our leaders, developing guiding principles, and building business relationships. It is the Washington HBPA’s goal to disseminate that information on a local level and fulfill the HBPA mission of “Horsemen Helping Horsemen.”
Because of the quality conditions at Emerald Downs, the Washington HBPA is able to focus beyond the association’s original intent. Benevolence is a major part of their program. Low fee dental care, supplemental vision care, medical and burial assistance is offered to eligible members, their employees and families in need. As a part of horsemen’s services, the Washington HBPA provides extra bridles at the starting gate, horse safety & medical equipment, quality tongue ties in the paddock and funding for special enhancements such as the electronic entry board in the race office. In addition to coordinating and funding stable area recreational and educational programs, the association also participates in community outreach events at local clubs and schools.
The Washington HBPA directors and staff take an active role in the State rule-making process to ensure that the WHRC Rules of Racing are written not only to safeguard the integrity of racing but also to protect the rights of owners, trainers and their employees. They also become directly involved in legislation affecting the thoroughbred racing industry by testifying at legislative hearings and appearing at government sponsored town meetings.
In 2001, the Washington HBPA became the Labor and Industries employer representative, monitoring and serving as claims manager for workman’s compensation claims for the entire Washington Horseracing Industry. The goal of association’s involvement with workman’s compensation is to strive for lower and more equitable premiums for members by preventing fraudulent claims and ensuring fair participation by employers. Equally important is the WHBPA staff’s responsibility to assist injured workers with receiving entitled benefits. With the cooperation of the Washington Horseracing Commission, the benefits of the associations’ involvement with the Department of Labor and Industries were quickly realized and the investment of staff hours and dollars expended justified.
All Washington HBPA members are automatically members of the National HBPA. Benefits of the being a National HBPA member include, low cost liability insurance for horses housed at the racetrack, Fire and Disaster Insurance (paid for by Emerald Downs but under a NHBPA umbrella policy), NTRA buying discounts and free delivery of the Horsemen’s Journal magazine to all members that fill out a WHBPA membership contact information card.
How Our Purse Structure Works
Purse increases and cuts seem to be part of everyday news in the horseracing world. However, because of the unique purse management system utilized by the Washington HBPA and Northwest Racing Associates management, such fluctuations Emerald Downs are minimal. Though horsemen have experienced purse changes over the last 10 years, the vast majority have been favorable. When there is a purse adjustment, the ensuing discussions and questions by horsemen are evidence that there are many misconceptions regarding purses. Further, it is apparent that many horsemen do not realize their potential to positively influence the handle that generates their purse account. Understanding how the horsemen’s purse account accrues as well as the sources of purse revenue, aids in understanding the importance of purse management and creating a race card that appeals to customers nationwide.
Where do purses come from?
The horsemen’s purse account at Emerald Downs is the sum of a percentage of the handle (total dollars bet); a percentage of advance deposit wagering source market fees; and the Muckleshoot Economic Development Fund contribution. In the pre-simulcast era of horseracing, computing purses from handle was quite simple. By multiplying the contracted purse percentage and the “total handle” figure at the bottom of charts in the local newspaper, one could accurately estimate purses generated for that day. Comparing this number to the total purses paid for the races that day would be a good indicator of the health of the purse account. All purses generated during the live meeting were paid out annually and there were no supplemental funds available. Today the “newspaper figure” is made up of live racing handle, simulcast handle and handle that is derived from selling the Emerald Downs signal (the live races) to simulcast outlets and racetracks across the U.S. Percentages of earnings from each source differ. Horsemen earn the highest percentage on what is bet at Emerald Downs and at the Washington off-track betting (OTB) outlets.
The “simulcast fund” is money generated during the off-season - when horsemen are away from Emerald Downs. It can be considered as a bonus to horsemen, because they do not have to be working at the racetrack to earn it. The money comes from a percentage of handle bet on horses at other racetracks by patrons at Emerald Downs and the Washington OTB’s during the non-live season. As it accrues it is kept in a horsemen’s savings account commonly referred to as the “Simulcast Fund.” Money from the fund is used as needed to supplement the shortfall between what is generated and what is paid out in purses during the subsequent live race meet.
What and who creates the purse schedule for the year?
Working together, the WHBPA board and Emerald Downs’ Management set up the purse structure before the live meet begins. Establishing the purse schedule can be equated to creating a family budget for the year.
Family Budget of Expenses = Savings + Yearly Income
Purse Supplement = Simulcast Fund +ADW Fund + Muckleshoot Contribution
Purses Available for Live Meet = Purse Supplement + Purses Generated During Live Season
Like the family budget where “savings” is a known value, the “purse supplement” value is also known at the time of creating the purse schedule. What is unknown and must be estimated is the predicted amount for “purses generated during the live season.”
for Live Meet = Avg Daily Purse Available
Note that the average daily purses available increases when the simulcast fund and purses generated goes up, or when the number of live race days decreases.
It is a common mistake to presume that when there is a decrease in the purse structure or in number of live race days that racetrack management benefits financially. It should be understood that dropping the purses does change the amount of dollars available for purses. Nor does an increase indicate that management is “giving more up for purses.” Maintaining or varying the purse schedule is simply a result of accuracy/inaccuracy in projecting handle. When it is evident that actual purses generated are going to fall short of projections, it is important to quickly adjust the purse structure. Other wise, like the family budget that runs out of money before the end of the year, horsemen will run out of purse money before the end of the meeting. Vice versa, when income exceeds projections, there is room for more spending or larger purses, as the case may be.
The number of variables that affect handle make the job of estimating purse funds difficult. A new mini casino, a local sports team winning streak, poor weather, short fields can all unpredictably affect handle. The introduction of a new venue, such as account deposit wagering is positive, but it will also affect other forms of wagering. Emerald Downs’ detailed databases of historical statistics and management’s ability to accurately forecast industry trends are an invaluable asset to the WHBPA when formulating the purse structure.
What happens to the excess purse money at the end of the live meeting?
As with the family budget, it is nice to have a little savings left over at the end of the year. Any money that is not paid out in purses is considered to be “reserve funds” and will be added to the simulcast fund for the following race meet. In the event that there has been an overpayment during the year, that is more purse money was paid than available, that amount is deducted from the simulcast fund at the beginning of the subsequent race meet. It has been the reserve fund that has allowed purses to remain stable over the past few years, in spite of fluctuations in handle.
How can horsemen strengthen the purse account?
Based on last year’s handle, if horsemen earned purses only on monies bet on their product off track and at Emerald Downs, purses would be limited to $17,860 per day. When a similar article to this was written in 2001, that figure was $30,000. Compare that number to 1991, when the Longacres horsemen’s product yielded an average daily purse of $87,504 and one begins to see the necessity for other sources of income for the horsemen’s purse account. Although, the economic viability for racing at Emerald is due to the legalization of full card simulcasting, advanced deposit wagering and the generosity of the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe, it remains that the health of the purse account directly correlates to the product that is exhibited to the betting public.
With more options, handicappers can be more selective when picking races to bet on. A large field is the most significant factor in attracting bettors. Statistics show that a full field of $3500 claimers will generate more purse money than a stakes race with six entries. So, although quality is an important factor, it is quantity that most significantly impacts the purse account. When establishing the purse account for the year, purses generated are based on anticipated field size. If the field size is larger than projected, purses generated will be higher. Conversely, multiple days of short fields can be devastating to the purse account. The negative balance from races with short fields must be made up by taking greater than projected dollars from the simulcast fund, which could lead to a deficit at the end of the race meet.
To manage the purse account, it is important that racing secretary balance the race card with quality and quantity to achieve projected handle and distribute purses according to budget. However, when horsemen create a race card that brings full fields, it is the best assurance for maintaining a positive purse account at Emerald Downs.
Law/Rules of Racing in Washington
Click here to see the section of the Washington Administrative Code's Laws of Racing pertaining to horse racing.
Click here to see Washington's Rules of Racing and information about the rulemaking process.