10/06/2004 11:00PM

No end to simo dispute


LEXINGTON, Ky. - The blackout of the signal from Belmont Park in eight mid-Atlantic and Northeast states could last through the end of the year, officials from both sides of the dispute said on Thursday.

"We're talking, we're faxing, we're proposing, we're trying, we're doing everything we can do, but it's been very difficult," said Bill Nader, the senior vice president of the New York Racing Association, which operates Belmont. "This may keep going until the end of the year."

Martin Lieberman, the executive director of the Midlantic Cooperative, a cooperative of racetracks formed to negotiate group simulcast contracts, said the cooperative and NYRA have had discussions over the past week but that the two sides are not any closer on an agreement. "There's a possibility this could end in the next few days; there's also a possibility that this will go on very much longer," Lieberman said.

Nader and Lieberman declined to comment on details of the negotiations.

Most of the tracks represented by the cooperative shut off Belmont as of Sept. 15 because of a dispute over account-wagering and television rights to the Belmont signal. The cooperative includes harness and Thoroughbred tracks in New Jersey, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, Massachusetts, West Virginia, and New Hampshire.

As a result of an agreement with Television Games Network, NYRA has restricted Internet and telephone wagering on the Belmont signal to TVG in two states represented by the cooperative, Virginia and New Hampshire. The agreement also restricts tracks in Pennsylvania from broadcasting NYRA's races live over cable television systems in the state. Still, the agreement does not prohibit account-wagering operations in any of the other states from taking bets on Belmont.

Both sides have suffered because of the dispute. Bettors in the states that have blacked out Belmont have been shut off from one of the most popular signals in the region, cutting into the revenues for both Belmont and the cooperative tracks.

Nader estimated that for every $1 that Belmont has lost in revenue, the tracks that have blacked out the signal have lost $4.50, based on how revenues are derived from simulcasting. Racetracks typically pay host tracks 3 percent of handle to take a simulcast signal, and keep the remainder of the takeout, generally 17 percent.