12/19/2001 12:00AM

Stronach discusses phone plans

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Frank Stronach, the chairman of Magna Entertainment, met Tuesday and Wednesday with leading California racing executives to discuss the company's telephone wagering plans and polish Magna's sometimes beleaguered image in the state.

Magna, which owns Santa Anita Park, Bay Meadows Racecourse, and Golden Gate Fields in California, has been criticized recently by some racing officials for failing to detail its plans for telephone wagering - which will start up in California early next year - and its inability to reach an agreement with Television Games Network over broadcasting races.

"I think [Stronach] wanted to clarify the situation about his point of view and the negotiations with TVG," said Joe Harper, the president of Del Mar, who met with Stronach on Wednesday morning, along with Del Mar board member Marty Wygod. "But they didn't go into a lot of detail. It was more of a traveling show."

John Van de Kamp, president of the Thoroughbred Owners of California, met with Stronach on Tuesday afternoon and said Stronach stressed the progress the company is making on its telephone wagering plans. But he also said the discussion lacked detail. "It was mostly in the form of a status report," said Van de Kamp. "They have a lot of balls in the air."

Magna officials did not return phone calls on Wednesday.

The TOC last week in an open letter and advertisement called on telephone wagering companies to work together to share signals so that patrons will not need two or more accounts to bet on California races year-round. TVG has the rights to Hollywood Park, Del Mar, and Oak Tree at Santa Anita.

Alan Landsburg, the chairman of the CHRB, also cited that concern in a letter sent last week to racing officials and executives at Magna and TVG.

"As an individual member of the California Horse Racing Board, I view the possibility as a liability to the state, to its racing industry, and above all to the people of California," Landsburg wrote.

Landsburg and other CHRB members met with Stronach in Southern California on Tuesday. Mike Marten, a spokesman for the board, said that members described the discussion as "productive."

At the Del Mar meeting on Wednesday morning, Stronach asked that Wygod be present, Harper said. Wygod has been outspoken about telephone wagering in the past and has also been critical of the TOC.

"Marty is passionately involved with the issue that horsemen get a fair share," Harper said. "He's concerned about the TVG deal, and he's concerned about the TOC issue. So Marty's a pretty good friend to have."

At the Tuesday afternoon meeting with the TOC, Stronach said that Magna was talking to cable companies in Southern and northern California about cable distribution, Van de Kamp said, although it is unclear how such a deal would be structured financially. Most television racing coverage, excluding the Triple Crown and Breeders' Cup, is paid for by the industry.

"They said that cable is not out of the question," Van de Kamp said. "So at least in terms of distribution they seem to be moving in the right direction. But as always, the devil is in the details."