07/11/2001 12:00AM

With all due respect . . .

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Greg Avioli, the deputy commissioner of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, will testify Thursday before a House of Representatives subcommittee about the threat that would be posed to racing by the prohibition of Internet wagering.

- news item in July 12 Daily Racing Form

Chairman: Thank you for coming Mr. Avioli. I hope I pronounced your name correctly?

Greg Avioli: Perfectly, Mr. Chairman. Thank you for this opportunity.

Chairman: Now, I'm kind of a computer dummy. I know how to turn the thing on and update my list of contributors. Stuff like that. But my kids keep trying to get me to go "online," like it's going to make my life even better than it already is. And it's pretty darn good. Is it my understanding that you people in horse racing want folks to do their gambling online and never even bother to watch ol' Seabiscuit run?

G.A.: Not exactly, Mr. Chairman. The racing industry views the Internet as one of many tools that can be used to make the excitement of horse racing legally available to our fans, just as the movie industry has taken its product into the homes of Americans through videotape and DVD technology.

Chairman: Whoa, now. Don't get me started on those movie types. We had that Michael Douglas guy in here last month quoting the U.S. Constitution and giving us an earful about keeping our hands off his creative freedom, when all I could do was think about what it must be like to have Cathy Zeta-Jones pour me a morning cup of coffee. You're not going to start quoting the U. S. Constitution on us, are you Mr. Avioli?

G.A.: Not unless it is entirely appropriate, Mr. Chairman. It is the hope of the racing industry that any possible legislation regulating the use of the Internet in transmitting gaming data would be sensitive to its impact upon parimutuel gaming. The responsible, carefully regulated interstate transmission of horse racing information predates the explosion of the Internet by many years.

Chairman: You mean like in that movie "The Sting?" Did you see that? Don't you just love that Paul Newman? We had him down here a couple of years ago testifying about health food, or something like that. Didn't bring Joanne Woodward, though. Kind of disappointed about that. So horse racing used to do business with chalkboards and ticker tape, and now they want to use the Internet?

G.A.: With all due respect, Mr. Chairman, it's my recollection that "The Sting" portrayed a fanciful, illegal bookmaking operation for the purposes of a climactic plot twist. Modern racing employs a highly sophisticated computerized system with extraordinary security levels to maintain the integrity of the gaming commerce.

Chairman: Oh, I know all about that. I saw that "War Games" movie back when it first came out on videotape. That little runt tapping into our nuclear mainframe and wreaking all kinds of havoc. Grew up to be Matthew Broderick, didn't he? Can't get a ticket to "The Producers" to save my skin. Isn't he married to one of those "Sexy in the City" girls? Can't say as I approve of that show. So what's to prevent little Sarah or little Sammy from betting their allowance on the computer every week instead of saving up for college?

G.A.: The technology is in place to prevent such eventualities, Mr. Chairman, and it is readily accessible to any Internet horse racing customer. In fact, it would be more difficult for an unauthorized user to hack into a personal racing account that it would for them to gain access to your own checking account, for instance.

Chairman: Why would anyone want to do that?

G.A.: I'm not saying anyone would, Mr. Chairman. It was only a way of illustrating my point about . . .

Chairman: Because if they did, they wouldn't find anything worth looking at. I saw "All the President's Men." Everybody knows you don't use a personal checking account for anything more than grocery money. How'd you like that sneaky little Dustin Hoffman nosing around your garbage? I liked him a lot better in a dress. "Tootsie," wasn't it? Made a handsome woman. Which makes me wonder why Congress should treat horse racing any different from casino gambling or betting football on the Internet?

G.A.: Because, Mr. Chairman, the horse racing industry operates legally in nearly every state in the union. The racing industry pays millions each year in municipal and state taxes for the privilege of doing business. Horse racing provides thousands of real jobs, at racetracks, breeding farms, and training centers. We believe horse racing deserves to be treated the same as any other legal business wishing to trade via the Internet, just as investors are allowed to trade in the stock market.

Chairman: I see your point. And I saw "Wall Street." Those boys were playing pretty near the edge, but it was all mostly legal, right? Michael Douglas again, talking about how greed is good. You sure, Mr. Avioli, that horse racing isn't just getting a little bit greedy here?

G.A.: No, Mr. Chairman. Racing only asks for fair treatment, and the chance to compete on a level playing field.

Chairman: Yeah, I think I know what you mean. "Bad News Bears," now that was a good movie.