Updated on 09/16/2011 7:41AM

Magna launches 'XpressBet' on-line service


NEW YORK - Magna Entertainment Corporation launched an online betting service called XpressBet on Friday, signalling that the company is moving forward in its effort to grab a share of the account-wagering market.

The service, which can be accessed at www.xpressbet.com, will take online bets from "any jurisdiction where it is legal to do so," the company said in an announcement. A more detailed explanation of its policy was not provided. Magna said XpressBet would offer wagering on the signals from 40 racetracks, including the eight Thoroughbred tracks operated by the company. The site does not offer live video or audio of races.

Magna's plans for account wagering have been closely watched by industry officials because of the company's influence over racing issues and its reluctance to sign on with Television Games Network, the 24-hour horseracing channel that broadcasts races from nearly every major racetrack in the U.S. Because of the TVG dispute, races from two popular Magna tracks, Santa Anita and Gulfstream, have not been available live on television this winter, leading to complaints from racing fans.

Magna chief executive officer Jim McAlpine said in a statement that the company would "shortly" announce Magna's plans for television distribution of its races, but he provided no further details. McAlpine did not return phone calls on Friday.

According to the website, the XpressBet service is licensed in Pennsylvania, the site of Magna's Call-A-Bet phone-betting operation, which Magna purchased last year from Ladbrokes. Magna said that the 27,000-subscriber Call-A-Bet service would also be renamed XpressBet.

Magna's stock dropped 13 cents to $8.20 a share at the close of trading Friday, following a two-day run-up that sent the stock price to an all-time high.

The launch is refocusing attention on several critical issues in the account-wagering market, including Magna's relationship with its competitors and its plans in California, where account wagering is expected to become fully legal in the next several months.

Before the launch, Magna angered several of its online competitors by pulling its signals from the services at the start of the year. The competitors, including the three online sites administered by AmericaTab, complained that Magna withdrew the signals without negotiation and in apparent contradiction to its criticism of the exclusive contracts supported by TVG, which has signed the vast majority of its tracks to agreements that prohibit the distribution of the tracks' signals through other services.

It is not clear if the full launch will lead Magna to pull its signal from other competitors, but officials for one operator of an online service, Fair Grounds racetrack in Louisiana, said on Friday that Magna had not indicated that any signals would be withdrawn.

Another of Magna's online competitors, Youbet.com, uses the Call-A-Bet service to process wagers on behalf of some of its customers. Youbet officials did not return phone calls on Friday.

In the past, the Call-A-Bet service has accepted bets from any state where parimutuel wagering is legal, although many Pennsylvania operations, including Call-A-Bet, have backed out of states where regulators have raised questions about account wagering, including California and Texas.

The California Horse Racing Board is expected to approve license applications for Magna and three other account-wagering operators at a meeting on Thursday. The operations are expected to begin accepting bets soon after approval.

The Friday announcement followed several extraordinary days of trading of Magna stock. On Wednesday, triggered by two single trades of more than 100,000 shares, Magna stock rose $1.01, or 14.5 percent, to $8, a new 52-week high. Volume that day was 975,000 shares, compared with average volume of 62,000 shares.

On Thursday, 866,600 shares of Magna stock changed hands, and the stock price rose another 33 cents, or 4.2 percent, to a record price. One trade Thursday was for approximately 225,000 shares.