08/19/2001 11:00PM

Round Table narrows focus

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - The Round Table program was much shorter this year than in the past, clocking in at 92 minutes, including a 10-minute intermission. In the past, it has stretched toward the 120-minute mark, if not beyond.

In the previous three years, presentations by a stream of National Thoroughbred Racing Association executives dominated the Round Table, as The Jockey Club, a founding member of the NTRA, allowed the association to trumpet its progress and brief industry officials on upcoming projects.

This year, though, the Round Table returned to a looser format, concentrating on fewer issues. The NTRA reduced its presentations to three: the release of the drug-testing report, the need for racing to attract corporate sponsors, and a plan to push for legislative changes that would tax racetracks on revenue, not handle.

"In the previous couple of years, we really did feel the need to report on everything," said Tim Smith, commissioner of the NTRA. "Now, that's not so important. It's probably a function of maturity."

Lobbying getting under way

The NTRA's plan to push for state legislative changes is still in the development stages, but Smith said the association was hoping to have bills introduced in "four or five states" by the beginning of next year. The states have yet to be identified, Smith said.

The case for taxing racetracks on revenues instead of handle was made by Lou Guth, the senior vice president of National Economic Research Associates, which prepared a report on deregulation in racing for the NTRA late last year. Guth said that racetracks would benefit by being able to alter takeout rates easily to compete with other entertainment options. The ultimate intent is to make the state partners with racetracks, Guth said, so that if the racetrack is able to increase its revenues, then the state makes more money.

* NTRA reiterated at the Round Table its promise to sign at least two "major companies" as sponsors for the World Thoroughbred Championships before the event is held on Oct. 27. Chip Campbell, the NTRA's new senior vice president for media and sponsorship, said that racing would need to attract major sponsors to decrease the costs of promoting the sport effectively.