11/06/2009 12:00AM

Fair Grounds signal limited


Betting sites along the Eastern seaboard were blacked out from receiving the opening-day signal from Fair Grounds in New Orleans because of an ongoing contract dispute between the sites and the owner of the track, according to an official involved in the negotiation.

Marty Lieberman, the president of a simulcast-buying cooperative representing 17 tracks in the Mid-Atlantic region, said that negotiations between the cooperative and TrackNet Media, a company owned by Churchill Downs Inc. and Magna Entertainment, remained at an impasse on Friday. Fair Grounds is owned by Churchill Downs.

"The last I spoke with them was on Wednesday," Lieberman said on Friday. "I'm still waiting to hear back from them."

TrackNet's president, Scott Daruty, said that he was "not optimistic" the two sides would strike a deal anytime soon, citing the cooperative's reluctance to accept an increase in the rate it pays.

"Their philosophy is based on an archaic pricing model that we don't think works in the racing industry anymore," Daruty said.

The negotiations had already resulted in the blackout of the signal from Churchill Downs at the sites, beginning on Churchill's opening-day, last Sunday. Churchill also ran live cards on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.

Members of the cooperative include Suffolk Downs, Rockingham Park, the Meadowlands, Monmouth Park, Freehold Raceway, Atlantic City, Chester Downs, Philadelphia Park, Penn National, Pocono Downs, Delaware Park, Harrington Raceway, Dover Downs, Charles Town Races, Rosecroft Raceway, Ocean Downs, and Colonial Downs, along with the offtrack betting networks owned or operated by those tracks.

TrackNet, which sells and buys simulcast signals on behalf of Churchill and Magna, has been aggressively seeking to push up simulcast rates for its signals since being formed several years ago, while simultaneously seeking discounted deals on imported signals for the account-wagering operations owned by Magna and Churchill. In addition to Churchill and Fair Grounds, TrackNet controls the signals to Calder Race Course, Arlington Park, Santa Anita Park (but not the Oak Tree meet at Santa Anita), Golden Gate Fields, Laurel Park, Pimlico Race Course, and Gulfstream Park, among other properties.

A previous agreement between the cooperative and TrackNet expired on Oct. 31. The contract was structured so the Mid-Atlantic sites have the right to continue to offer wagering on the signals from any track where the live meet started before the contract's expiration date.