11/21/2008 12:00AM

Some progress in account-wagering talks


Horsemen's groups and a company representing two large account-wagering platforms have made progress on a potential deal designed to break several deadlocks over the rights to signals, but a deal is still not imminent, according to an official involved in the talks.

Scott Daruty, the president of TrackNet - a simulcast-marketing company owned by Churchill Downs Inc. and Magna Entertainment - said on Thursday that negotiations with the Thoroughbred Horsemen's Group and Thoroughbred Owners of California on Wednesday represented a step forward for the potential deal. The groups will not meet again, however, until next week, at the earliest, in the ongoing discussions.

"We made some progress," Daruty said. "We didn't reach an agreement, but we talked about a plan where we could reach an agreement in the near future."

Representatives of the horsemen and owners could not be reached for comment on Thursday. The Thoroughbred Horsemen's Group was formed late last year to negotiate signal contracts with account-wagering companies, and the Thoroughbred Owners of California has assigned its negotiating rights to the company.

The negotiations are critical to mitigating the impact of widespread blackouts of racing signals on account-wagering platforms, even though the talks have yet to involve several major players. Horsemen's groups in several states, including California, Kentucky, and Florida, are currently withholding their permission to send signals to many account-wagering platforms, citing their dissatisfaction with the amount of the wagering revenue that goes to purses.

On Tuesday, the California Horse Racing Board declined to renew the licenses of the four national account-wagering companies, giving the companies roughly 50 days to come to terms with horsemen or face the loss of their licenses after Dec. 31. The four account-wagering companies licensed in California are Churchill's Twinspires.com, Television Games Network, Magna's XpressBet, and Youbet.com. California is the largest account-wagering market in the country.

The California racing board based its decision in part on a current blackout of the signal from Hollywood Park outside of California. The owners' group has said that it is unwilling to reach an agreement on the Hollywood Park signal without a larger agreement with account-wagering companies covering all California tracks, at least.

Neither Hollywood Park nor TVG have been involved in talks with the California owners' group. Hollywood currently has a contract with TVG giving the account-wagering platform the rights to its live television signal.

"I'm waiting to hear from somebody just like a lot of people," said Jack Liebau, president of the company that owns Hollywood Park.