08/28/2003 12:00AM

Handle surge for Oregon account-wagering firms


Betting through Oregon-based account-wagering operations skyrocketed 136 percent in the second quarter of 2003 compared with the same quarter last year, according to records released by the Oregon Racing Commission.

Handle in the second quarter, typically one of the best quarters of the year for account-wagering operators because of the Triple Crown races, was $222.2 million, compared with $94.2 million in the second quarter last year.

Five account-wagering operations are licensed by the Oregon Racing Commission to base their hubs in the state. The Thoroughbred racing companies are AmericaTab, the Racing Channel, Television Games Network, and Youbet.com. The other company, Greyhound Channel, takes wagers on dog races.

Total handle on U.S. races from all sources in the second quarter of 2003 was $4.12 billion, an increase of 2.5 percent compared with the second quarter of 2002, according to the National Thoroughbred Racing Association. Last year, total handle for 2002 on U.S. races was $15.1 billion.

The Oregon numbers are beginning to validate the opinions of some racing officials who have contended that account wagering will become racing's primary source of new revenue in the next decade. If handle continues to grow at the current rate, the Oregon companies will take at least $1 billion in bets in 2003, or 7 percent of the national handle.

The Oregon numbers do not include account-wagering operations across the country, which also do substantial amounts of business, including the account-wagering companies run by New York's offtrack betting corporations, the New York Racing Association, Autotote's Connecticut-based system, and XPressBet, which is owned by Magna Entertainment Corp.

A number of rebate shops that cater to high-rolling horseplayers could also be considered account-wagering companies. Two of the biggest, Racing Services in North Dakota, and Racing and Gaming Services in St. Kitts, an island in the Caribbean, together took in approximately $800 million in wagers in 2002.

In Oregon, Youbet.com had the best second quarter of any of the account-wagering operators, taking $68 million in wagers. An unknown portion of those wagers, however, was on races from exclusive TVG partner tracks. Nearly all of the revenue from those bets is awarded to TVG under an agreement the companies signed several years ago.

The Racing Channel, owned by the company that operates Philadelphia Park, posted the second-best second-quarter handle numbers, at $61.3 million. Officials of Philadelphia Park have said that the majority of wagers through the Racing Channel's operation originate in the United Kingdom, where U.S. racing signals are broadcast in prime time.

TVG had second-quarter handle of $61 million. TVG broadcasts a 24-hour racing channel that reaches 12 million homes.

AmericaTab, a collection of Internet sites administered by an Ohio-based partnership of several racetracks, took in $27.5 million in the second quarter. Last year, AmericaTab's sites had handle of $91,000 in the second quarter.