10/25/2004 11:00PM

Deal restores NYRA signal in mid-Atlantic

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The New York Racing Association and the MidAtlantic Cooperative have reached an agreement restoring NYRA's simulcast signal to 18 tracks in seven states, officials for both sides said Tuesday.

The agreement ends a six-week blackout that has infuriated racing fans along the Eastern seaboard and cost the tracks involved millions of dollars in simulcast revenue. The MidAtlantic Cooperative shut off the signal from NYRA's Belmont Park on Sept. 15 in an effort to force NYRA and its account-wagering partner, Television Games Network, to cede in-home broadcast rights for NYRA's races to the cooperative tracks.

The one-year agreement will allow the tracks to broadcast NYRA's races at racetracks and simulcast facilities in Delaware, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia. Suffolk Downs, a cooperative track in Massachusetts, broke away from the cooperative last week and signed a separate agreement with NYRA, restoring the Belmont signal on Oct. 21.

Belmont's fall meet ended on Sunday. The association was to begin its winter meet at Aqueduct on Wednesday.

Bill Nader, the senior vice president of NYRA, said the recent agreement did not differ in any respect from a contract that was presented to the MidAtlantic Cooperative before the blackout began.

"Although it's a relief we're moving forward, it's still insane this thing went on so long," Nader said. "The terms we laid out in August when we began negotiations are the exact same terms that MidAtlantic agreed to. The customers were held hostage for no apparent reason. There are no winners here. We're all a bunch of losers."

Nader estimated that NYRA lost "just over $1 million" in simulcast revenue from the mid-Atlantic tracks. He said, however, that handle on Belmont through TVG, which took wagers from residents of Maryland and Massachusetts during the dispute, was up 40 percent over the seven-week meet.

Martin Lieberman, the executive director of the MidAtlantic Cooperative and the general counsel for Daily Racing Form, confirmed that the contract was the same as the one offered by NYRA before the blackout and said that as a result of the six-week dispute, NYRA and the cooperative "have more of an understanding of the other's needs." When asked what the cooperative gained, Lieberman said, "It's important that the mid-Atlantic customers are now able to bet on the Aqueduct signal."

NYRA's signal is the most popular simulcast product in the mid-Atlantic states, according to racing officials. The dispute blocked bettors from almost the entire seven-week meet at Belmont, billed by NYRA as the "Fall Championship Meet" because of the numerous Grade 1 races run during the meet.

The dispute between NYRA and the MidAtlantic tracks stemmed from a bitter battle between account-wagering companies in the region. Many of the tracks in the cooperative operate account-wagering businesses that are in competition with NYRA's account-wagering partner, TVG.

NYRA signed an agreement with TVG in September that restricted in-home bettors in New Hampshire and Virginia from wagering on NYRA's signal except through a TVG account. The TVG deal also restricted Pennsylvania and New Jersey tracks from rebroadcasting NYRA's signal live on local cable systems or the Internet without a separate agreement with TVG, but still allowed the state's account-wagering operations to take wagers on NYRA's races.

One of the Pennsylvania tracks, Philadelphia Park, has been instrumental in crafting laws and regulations in the mid-Atlantic region designed to keep competitors like TVG from taking bets from state residents. Philadelphia Park owns Phonebet, a national account-wagering operation, and is a partner with several other tracks in the region in other account-wagering companies.

Lieberman said the cooperative would seek to continue negotiations with TVG over the in-home broadcast rights to the NYRA signal.