01/22/2010 1:00AM

Mid-Atlantic simulcast dispute is settled


An agreement has been reached in the months-long stalemate that precluded racing fans in seven Mid-Atlantic states from wagering on signals from major North American tracks, it was announced Friday by representatives of the companies on both sides of the dispute.

TrackNet Media, which controls the rights to simulcast signals from tracks such as Gulfstream Park, Santa Anita, Fair Grounds, and Oaklawn Park, has agreed to terms with the MidAtlantic Cooperative, a coalition of simulcast sites. A contract between the two groups had expired on Oct. 31, and the failure to reach a new deal prior to Friday had prevented the simulcast sites from offering the TrackNet signals, including that of the entire Churchill Downs fall meet.

Marty Lieberman, executive director of MidAtlantic, said the two sides had agreed to withhold terms of the deal, although they disclosed it was for one year with a one-year option to renew. Previously, officials involved in the negotiations had said that TrackNet was seeking an increase in the rate for the signals, and was seeking a one-year term.

"It's been a difficult time for everyone," Lieberman said.

Scott Daruty, chief executive of TrackNet, also declined to provide terms of the deal, and said that TrackNet wanted to "apologize to racing fans for the inconvenience."

"We now have an agreement that makes sense to TrackNet, and makes sense to the MidAtlantic," Daruty said. "Hopefully the fans will reacquaint themselves with what we think are quality racing products."

TrackNet Media is a partnership of racetrack giants Churchill Downs Inc. and Magna Entertainment Corp. The MidAtlantic Cooperative represents 17 racetracks and their off-track betting networks in seven East Coast states reaching from New Hampshire to Virginia.

The dispute surely had an adverse effect on all-sources handle at tracks whose signals are controlled by TrackNet. Gulfstream officials acknowledged that a substantial factor in the 37 percent drop in handle on its opening-day card Jan. 3 could be attributed to MidAtlantic bettors being shut out.

The dispute also underlined the changing role of account-wagering operations during regional simulcast disputes. Both Magna and Churchill Downs own account-wagering companies that allowed bettors in the affected states to wager on the TrackNet signals, and the MidAtlantic sites had complained during the dispute that TrackNet had less incentive to reach a deal because of the reach of its parents' account-wagering operations.

- additional reporting by Matt Hegarty