12/19/2003 12:00AM

Popular site may charge fee

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Racingchannel.com, one of the most popular free live tote boards on the Internet, will begin restricting access to its site on Jan. 19 in order to cut down on "unauthorized traffic," officials for the site said Friday.

One such official, Joe Michaels, said that details regarding how the restrictions will be put in place have not been fully worked out, but a fee for the site may be put in place.

"The intention is to micromanage it over the next three months," Michaels said.

Michaels and other officials said the site had recently become deluged with hits from computer programs that are continually extracting data about pools, causing the service to slow dramatically at times and crash more frequently.

Gary Prestage, Racingchannel.com's information technologies officer, said the programs were asking the site for data as frequently as 100 times a minute, and that much of the growth is coming from computer addresses in the Caribbean.

Prestage and Michaels said the programs were being marketed and sold by horseplayers as a way to improve handicapping and wagering. The programs are designed specifically to take information from the Racingchannel.com site, they said.

"The really sad thing about this is that it's not the average horseplayer who is the problem," Michaels said. "For lack of a better term, it's these robots that are out there just constantly hitting the site."

Racingchannel.com was started 10 years ago by Greenwood Racing Inc. as a complimentary Internet service for its telephone-betting customers. As account-wagering has grown, many horseplayers have become accustomed to using the site to get real-time odds updates in all available pools, along with updated pool totals.