05/09/2007 12:00AM

Account wagering on Derby falls


Customers of domestic-based account-wagering companies bet $6.2 million on the Kentucky Derby last Friday and Saturday, a sharp drop-off from the estimated $11 million to $12 million in bets on the Derby last year through telephone and Internet betting operations, according to officials of Churchill Downs Inc.

Account wagering on the Derby this year was limited to three domestic account-wagering providers: XpressBet, owned by Magna Entertainment Corp.; the sites operated by the racetrack-owned company AmericaTab; and Churchill's new account-wagering platform, Twinspires.com. The Derby was blacked out on two other large services, Television Games Network and Youbet.com, because the two companies failed to reach agreement with Churchill over its signals.

All-sources wagering on the Kentucky Derby and its undercard on Saturday declined for the first time in 16 years. The drop-off for the Derby was only 0.1 percent, and the decline on the whole card was 4.1 percent. Churchill officials have blamed the decline on small fields in three of the races on Saturday's card.

Churchill officials said the decline in account-wagering handle did not significantly affect the company's bottom line or the revenues flowing to horsemen because of higher retention rates for the signal on the available platforms. Bob Evans, Churchill's chief executive, said that revenue to the track and the horsemen was down only $21,000 despite the estimated $5 million to $6 million in lost wagers.

Last year, the Derby was available on AmericaTab, Youbet.com, and TVG. AmericaTab and Youbet.com took the Derby through a sublicensing deal from TVG, which at that time had the rights to the signal from Churchill and its tracks. Churchill let its agreement with TVG expire this year to form its own account-wagering company.

In a conference call Wednesday, Churchill officials also said that 9,500 customers signed up for Twinspires.com between the launch of the service on the Wednesday prior to the Derby through the running of the race. Vernon Niven, the president of Twinspires.com, said on the conference call that customers who attempted to register for the site using the telephone sometimes experienced "ridiculous" delays but that the company was hopeful the problems had already been resolved.