12/26/2003 12:00AM

Magna bars outside account bets

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Bettors who use account-wagering operators other than XPressBet - and, in some cases, Youbet.com - will no longer be able to use their phone or Internet accounts to bet on races from Magna Entertainment racetracks.

Magna, which owns and operates XPressBet, has told account-wagering operators that their customers would be prohibited from wagering on Magna's signals beginning with the opening of the Santa Anita meet and throughout 2004, racing officials said Friday. Youbet.com is the only account-wagering company to have worked out a deal with Magna, an agreement that permits its customers to bet only on Magna's California tracks.

Magna owns, among other tracks, Santa Anita, Golden Gate, and Gulfstream, three of the most popular winter signals in the country. Santa Anita and Golden Gate started meets on Friday. Gulfstream is scheduled to open on Jan. 3.

Although several account-wagering operators said they hoped Magna would reverse the policy by the close of the weekend, many telephone and Internet betting operations have already reworked their schedules to reflect the withdrawal of the Magna signals. Only Youbet.com has worked out an agreement with Magna to at least partially lift the restrictions.

Under a deal struck with the assistance of the Thoroughbred Owners of California and the California Horse Racing Board, Youbet.com, the Internet wagering provider, will be able to offer wagering on races from Santa Anita and Golden Gate, according to the company's general counsel, Vic Gallo, but will be shut out from Magna's other tracks.

"That is how it is going be for the time being," Gallo said. "We will see about the other tracks in the future."

XPressBet has struggled to gain customers. Although Magna officials did not return phone calls on Tuesday and Friday, other racing officials said that Magna was hoping the restriction would drive business to its operation.

In addition, Magna put a notice on its Santa Anita website that, beginning Jan. 12, it would begin charging $4.99 a month to those who want to watch live video of the track's races on the Internet. The service was previously free. The notice also recommended opening an account with XpressBet.

Officials for AmericaTab.com, a collection of nine Internet wagering sites, sent an e-mail on Wednesday notifying customers that the Magna tracks would be unavailable. In the e-mail, AmericaTab's president, Charlie Ruma, urged customers to boycott the Magna tracks.

Todd Bowker, the general manager of AmericaTab, said Friday that Magna's decision would frustrate thousands of racing fans.

"We've always been the champions of doing right by the customer, and I personally hate that it has come to this," Bowker said. "Unfortunately, when you have 14 tracks like Magna does, this is the kind of thing you can do."

Magna's move has generated calls for boycotts on several Internet horse racing discussion groups as well. At the Derbylist, a popular racing site, posters nearly unanimously said they would honor a boycott.

Hal Handel, the chief executive officer of Philadelphia Park, which owns the popular phonebet.com and oneclickbetting.com sites, said that negotiations were continuing between Philadelphia and Magna on Friday.

The largest Internet account-wagering operation, Television Games Network, did not have an agreement to take most Magna tracks prior to the new restrictions.