04/27/2005 11:00PM

Churchill tentatively reconnects rebaters

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Churchill Downs Inc. has restored the signals from its racetracks to several offtrack rebate sites that the company had previously cut off, a Churchill Downs official said Thursday.

The official, Karl Schmitt, the president of Churchill Downs Simulcast Network, declined to identify which rebate sites have been allowed back into the pools. Earlier this year, Churchill cut off the signal from its Fair Grounds racetrack in New Orleans to five rebate sites named in an indictment charging more than a dozen individuals with operating an illegal betting operation. None of the sites was charged with a crime.

Churchill allowed several sites back into its pools as of the opening of the Hollywood Park meet on April 22. Churchill's Calder Race Course opened on Monday, and the spring meet at Churchill begins Saturday.

Churchill restored the signals after asking the sites to disclose information about their operations, Schmitt said, but he declined to provide specifics about Churchill's requests. Schmitt also said that Churchill has decided not to allow any new rebate operations to bet into the company's pools, and that the current contracts could be rescinded at any time.

"We have made clear that our commitment to doing business with these operators could well be short-term," said Schmitt.

The sites Churchill had previously cut off were Euro Off-Track, based on the Isle of Man; a site run through the Tonkawa Indian Reservation in Oklahoma; International Racing Group and Elite Turf Club, based in Curacao; and Lakes Region Greyhound Track, located in New Hampshire.

Betting at rebate sites can have significant impact on a racetrack's business. Racing officials estimate that 15 percent of all betting last year went through rebate shops.

The New York Racing Association's interstate handle has been down approximately 12 percent since NYRA cut off a dozen rebate operations in January, according to Bill Nader, NYRA's senior vice president. Nader also said that some of the decline is related to a slight decrease this year in field size.

At Oaklawn Park, which has restricted the availability of its signal to rebate sites, interstate handle dropped 10 percent this year from last year. On the flip side, Gulfstream Park, which did not cut off any rebate shops, closed Sunday with a 4.3 percent increase in offtrack business.

In another Churchill development on Thursday, the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority voted to allow Churchill to employ Dr. Ted Hill, The Jockey Club steward at the New York Racing Association, to work at Churchill on Oaks and Derby Day. Hill performed the same duty last year.