01/18/2002 12:00AM

California horsemen fret over phone-bet details


ARCADIA, Calif. - Less than a week before a possible launch of telephone and Internet betting in California, purse negotiations between the Thoroughbred Owners of California and betting system operators are causing concern among some horsemen who feel they have not been kept informed.

A group called Concerned California Horsemen, chaired by leading owner and breeder Marty Wygod, has asked the TOC, which negotiates purses for horsemen, to provide more information on the bargaining. The horsemen are worried that the new form of gambling will drive customers off track and lead to lower purses.

The group took out a full-page ad in the Western edition of Sunday's Daily Racing Form expressing its concerns.

The issue will be at the forefront of Thursday's California Horse Racing Board meeting in Monrovia. Applications from Youbet.com, Magna, Television Games Network, and Autotote to conduct advance deposit wagering in California are expected to reach a vote.

Regulations for advanced deposit wagering were approved by the Office of Administrative Law on Friday. If applications are approved Thursday, advance deposit wagering can begin soon after, according to California board spokesman Mike Marten.

As of Friday, no purse agreement had been reached by the TOC and the betting system operators, according to TOC president John Van de Kamp. System operators must have agreements with horsemen and racetracks to gain board approval. Van de Kamp said the TOC had meetings scheduled this weekend to see if agreements can be worked out.

"It's all preliminary," Van de Kamp said Friday. "No deal has been struck. We're very sensitive for the need to work out a fair deal so the horsemen don't get left behind. The last thing we want to have happen is cannibalization."

Van de Kamp would not say how far negotiations have progressed. He emphasized that the amount of revenue - known as the hub fee - that would go to the operators of the advance deposit wagering systems was a "major issue."

"When you're in the middle of negotiations, you don't negotiate with the whole world," Van de Kamp said.

"At the end of the day, if we don't see a better deal," he said, there will be no advance deposit wagering contracts.

Wygod, speaking at Santa Anita on Thursday, said he would ask the board not to approve the applications if he felt an agreement did not benefit horsemen. Wygod has been vocal about the issue since last summer when advanced deposit wagering legislation was approved by Gov. Gray Davis.

In Sunday's advertisement, Wygod's group said the new wagering should be used to increase media exposure, give racing an opportunity to increase purses, and protect against an erosion of purses by "cannibalization of existing fan base."

Wygod has been soliciting support in the last two weeks, spending several days in the stable area at Santa Anita. Last summer at Del Mar, Wygod called two "town meetings" to urge the TOC to work out an agreement with operators such as TVG and Magna to guarantee that purses would not fall if advance deposit wagering led customers away from the racetrack.

"The TOC has not followed up with TVG," Wygod said. "They should have already presented their opinion to the CHRB."

Wygod said he had not received satisfactory details from the TOC regarding recent negotiations.

"They've got me very apprehensive," he said. "TOC has to tell us their position. This is the one shot we have of increasing interest in the game and increasing purses."