01/24/2002 12:00AM

Magna and TVG get okay for California phone bets


MONROVIA, Calif. - Magna Entertainment and TVG can begin taking bets by Internet and telephone in California after receiving approval Thursday from the California Horse Racing Board.

Jim McAlpine, the chief executive officer of Magna Entertainment, which owns Bay Meadows, Golden Gate Fields, and Santa Anita, said that bets could be taken as soon as Saturday. He also said a marketing campaign promoting the new avenues of betting was to begin on Friday at Magna-owned tracks. The company will use its XpressBet phone system and XpressBet.com Internet system to handle wagers.

Magna's application was boosted earlier Thursday when it reached an agreement with the Thoroughbred Owners of California on distribution of the phone-betting revenue.

But that deal was criticized by the California Thoroughbred Trainers and a group of owners and trainers known as Concerned California Horsemen. Both groups were upset they had not been given a chance to review the contract's details.

During its presentation to the board, Magna officials described plans to launch a television network similar to the defunct Racing Network, which it acquired last year. When asked by CHRB chairman Alan Landsburg how many viewers the network could immediately reach, officials failed to give an answer beyond the 3,000 subscribers that Racing Network had when it folded.

Landsburg said, "I applaud the deal you've made with the horsemen, but I must insist that somewhere there is a way to communicate with the larger public."

According to testimony from Andrew Gaughan, Magna vice-president for new media initiatives, the television service will be offered free on satellite television through the end of February when a subscription service will start.

McAlpine said the betting hub and television production facility will be based at Bay Meadows.

TVG's application was debated for an hour, compared to two for Magna's. TVG will immediately present betting and television service of Quarter Horse racing from Los Alamitos and will take bets on a variety of Thoroughbred tracks outside the state. Later in the year, it will offer Hollywood Park, Del Mar, Fairplex Park, and the Oak Tree at Santa Anita meeting.

TVG president Mark Wilson said his company would try to begin accepting bets immediately. The company will take bets on as many as 15 tracks nationwide.

The Magna application did not specify how many signals customers will be able to bet.

TVG's television signal is available through the Dish Network. Later this year, TVG will become more widely available in the Los Angeles area through digital cable.

Earlier in the meeting, the CHRB tabled an application from Youbet.com to launch its own system because it did not include a television agreement, a deal with horsemen's associations, or a $500,000 financial security bond. An application from Autotote was also tabled for similar reasons.