12/23/2009 1:00AM

Mid-Atlantic group may not get Santa Anita signal

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An ongoing dispute between dozens of simulcast sites on the Eastern Seaboard and a partnership of Magna Entertainment and Churchill Downs Inc. has made it unlikely that the sites will receive the opening-weekend signal from Santa Anita Park, officials involved in the negotiations said Wednesday.

The dispute has pitted the partnership, TrackNet Media, against the Mid-Atlantic Cooperative, which buys simulcast signals on behalf of sites in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Virginia. The two sides have been unable to come to agreement on a new simulcast contract since the previous agreement expired Nov. 1, resulting, so far, in the blackout of signals from Fair Grounds in New Orleans and Churchill Downs in Louisville.

With Magna's Santa Anita Park scheduled to start on Dec. 26, and Magna's Gulfstream Park scheduled to open on Jan. 3, the dispute is now threatening to affect the most popular wagering signals in the U.S., which would seem to put a significant amount of pressure on the two sides to broker a deal prior to Saturday. However, officials on both sides said Wednesday that no deal was in sight.

Scott Daruty, the chief executive of TrackNet, said he was "not optimistic" that a deal would be reached prior to Santa Anita's opening. TrackNet has been attempting to get simulcast sites to pay a higher fee for simulcast signals, but the Mid-Atlantic Cooperative, for one, has balked at any rate hikes.

"It does not appear that they are going to accept our proposal," Daruty said. "They've refused to pay any increase at all and they are sticking to their position."

Martin Lieberman, the executive director of the cooperative, said on Wednesday that negotiations remain at a stalemate. He said that it was "extremely unlikely" that the two sides would reach a deal allowing the Mid-Atlantic sites to take wagers on Santa Anita for its Saturday and Sunday cards.

"Everything has flowed from the Mid-Atlantic to TrackNet," Lieberman said. "There has been virtually no response."

Members of the cooperative include Suffolk Downs, Rockingham Park, the Meadowlands, Monmouth Park, Freehold Raceway, Atlantic City, Chester Downs, Philadelphia Park, Penn National, Pocono Downs, Delaware Park, Harrington Raceway, Dover Downs, Charles Town Races, Rosecroft Raceway, Ocean Downs, and Colonial Downs, along with the offtrack betting networks owned or operated by those tracks.

A similar dispute is threatening to impact the availability of TrackNet's signals on Television Games Network, the largest account-wagering company in the U.S., beginning with Santa Anita's opening. That dispute is based on a lawsuit TVG filed against Magna's account-wagering company, XpressBet, alleging that XpressBet has infringed on a patent held by TVG. According to an agreement signed earlier this year, both sides said that if the lawsuit is not settled by Dec. 25, an existing contract allowing TVG to offer wagering on TrackNet's signals would expire.

Daruty said that negotiations between the two parties on the settlement are taking place "constantly."