12/30/2003 1:00AM

Tampa in simulcast squeeze

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Tampa Bay Downs is embroiled in contract disputes with both the New York Racing Association and Magna Entertainment Corp. and as of now will not be importing the signals from Aqueduct, Gulfstream, Santa Anita, and other tracks this winter.

According to Peter Berube, the general manager of Tampa Bay Downs, NYRA will only disseminate Aqueduct's signal through Gulfstream Park. In effect, the decision takes away two-thirds of the revenue Tampa and three greyhound tracks that take NYRA's signal through Tampa would receive if Tampa had its own contract with NYRA. Additionally, Berube said, the Magna-owned Gulfstream Park wants to change the signal-for-signal arrangement it has maintained with Tampa for the last three years.

"Gulfstream wants to increase the price it charges us for their signal and decrease what they pay for the Tampa signal," said Berube, who declined to offer specific percentages. "We're not going to go for a type of deal like that."

Berube said he is still in negotiations with Gulfstream, but he did not sound optimistic about the prospect that something would get done by Saturday, when Gulfstream opens. Tampa has not taken the signal from Santa Anita or Golden Gate, two Magna-owned West Coast tracks, since Dec. 26.

Scott Savin, the president and general manager of Gulfstream Park, said he is still negotiating with Tampa, adding, "We've offered them our signal, it's just a question of settling on a price. These things usually go down to the last minute."

In regards to NYRA, Berube said NYRA has had "a change in operating procedure" from the last eight years in which it has maintained contracts with both Gulfstream and Tampa Bay. This year, NYRA has entered into a contract with Gulfstream as its sole disseminator of the Aqueduct signal. Other sites in Florida can get Aqueduct's signal through Gulfstream.

"Effectively, the revenue stays down at Gulfstream; only one-third would flow to us, so we will not be taking the NYRA signal under those circumstances," Berube said.

Berube said three greyhound tracks that take outside signals through Tampa - Tampa Bay Greyhound, Derby Lane, and Sarasota - also would not be accepting wagers on Aqueduct or Magna-owned tracks. Berube said those four sites combined to handle about $7 million on NYRA races in 2003.

Bill Nader, vice president of NYRA, said it makes better business sense for cash-strapped NYRA to have one contract in Florida. Nader also indicated that if NYRA had not entered into such a deal with Magna, NYRA may have had to pay more money to take signals from Gulfstream and Santa Anita.