10/29/2008 12:00AM

Hollywood signal limited and purses cut again

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - A contract dispute between the Thoroughbred Owners of California and four account wagering companies blacked out Hollywood Park's opening-day signal Wednesday to customers of TVG, Twinspires.com, Xpressbet, and Youbet.com who do not live in California.

Other account-wagering companies were not affected.

Although Hollywood Park is not directly involved in the dispute, the track, anticipating a loss of handle, announced a 6.25 percent cut to overnight purses, effective Sunday. Hollywood Park had already cut overnight purses by approximately 7 percent for the start of the fall meeting, anticipating a decline in betting because of poor economic conditions.

Until the dispute is resolved, TVG, Twinspires.com, Xpressbet, and Youbet.com can offer betting on Hollywood Park races to California residents, but not bettors out of state. The issue may not be resolved in the near future, leaving some fans unable to bet on races from the popular Southern California track.

The TOC, which must approve purse contracts on behalf of the state's horsemen, is seeking a larger share of revenue from wagers placed through Internet and telephone sources. Account wagering is the only growing segment of the parimutuel industry.

Wednesday, both the TOC and TVG blamed each other for the lack of an agreement. During telecasts of the Hollywood Park races on Wednesday, TVG placed a message on its network informing viewers of the contract impasse and asking them to contact TOC president Drew Couto.

Officials with TVG, the largest of the four account wagering providers in California, did not return a phone call seeking comment. TVG later released a statement indicating that account wagering on Hollywood Park races will be available only to California-based account holders. TVG said it will continue to broadcast Hollywood Park races on its television network, but was scaling back production.

In a statement, TVG president David Nathanson said, "The TOC decision is bad for everyone involved in horse racing. Purses are being cut. Horsemen will lose money. Hollywood Park will lose revenue. Worst of all, this action hurts the fan when the industry needs them the most."

Couto said his organization made "its seventh offer" earlier this week. He said the account wagering companies "were sitting back and saying, 'we're not going to be the first to move.'

"It's hard to make a deal when someone says, 'No, no, no.' We're playing phone tag and crunching numbers.

"We've been telling everyone since June this would happen," Couto added. "It shouldn't be a surprise this is happening. We are where we are. Who gets penalized? The players, and that's a shame."