01/29/2002 1:00AM

Account business brisk

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Officials of Television Games Network and Magna Entertainment, the two companies licensed last week to take account wagers in California, have expressed enthusiasm about the first several days of their new operations.

The companies, which were licensed somewhat unexpectedly last Thursday by the California Horse Racing Board, both began taking wagers on Friday. Although officials of the companies said business was strong, they would not offer specific handle information or provide figures for the number of new accounts opened.

The companies are being closely watched by many racing officials. California is the largest parimutuel betting market in the country, and many racing officials believe the state will serve as a litmus test for account wagering's ability to attract new fans to the sport.

"We were generally pleased with the first weekend," said TVG vice president of communications John Hindman on Tuesday afternoon. "On account of the short lead-up, we were especially pleased, in the sense that we weren't able to do any extensive marketing."

Hindman said he could not provide any specific figures because it is the company's policy not to divulge financial figures.

Officials for Magna did not return several phone calls. But Andrew Gaughan, the vice president of new media initiatives, was quoted in an article at bloodhorse.com on Tuesday as saying that the weekend's business "exceeded our expectations."

The article did not include overall wagering or account information, but Gaughan said that the numbers would be available by the end of the first week of February.

Magna experienced technical difficulties processing applications for new accounts over the first weekend. On Monday, the XpressBet site included a warning that license applications could take up to two days to approve. The site advertises that applications are approved "the same day."

Magna currently has a business advantage over TVG because the company controls the live racing product in California in the winter. Magna owns Santa Anita Park and Golden Gate Fields, the two racetracks running live, as well as Bay Meadows Race Course. As a result, anyone wanting to bet live races in Southern California until Santa Anita closes in April must open a Magna account.

That situation will tilt in TVG's favor for the remainder of the year, when Hollywood Park, Del Mar, Oak Tree at Santa Anita, and Fairplex run live. Those tracks all have exclusive agreements with TVG.

Mike Marten, a CHRB spokesman, said on Tuesday the officials at California Horse Racing Information Management System Inc., a quasi-state agency that tracks handle through California wagering sources, were currently working on a method to count the number of dollars that come from account-wagering sources in the state. The method, Marten said, should be ready by Feb. 1, making up-to-date account-wagering figures available to anyone.

"The protocols aren't set up yet for easily extracting that number," Marten said. "Right now they are in a form where they are useful for auditing purposes, but not for the general media."