08/13/2004 12:00AM

Task force: Limit simulcast outlets

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - A task force that has studied the impact of offtrack betting will recommend on Sunday at the Round Table conference in Saratoga Springs that racetracks use revenue figures rather than handle figures when making business decisions, according to officials involved in the task force.

Citing the results of a study, the task force will contend that some tracks are better off limiting the distribution of their simulcast signal.

The recommendation will underscore the influence of the growth of offtrack betting on the industry's economic health, including the rapid growth in account-wagering handle and betting at rebate shops, which both typically return far less money to live racetrack operators than an ontrack bet.

The task force will make the recommendation based on several studies that have examined the impact on track revenues after several tracks, including Oaklawn Park, shut off some high-volume wagering sites this year.

The task force, which was set up by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, was charged with examining why purses in 2003 fell marginally despite a slight gain in handle. Officials with the task force, who have agreed to a confidentiality clause until the task force releases its final report at the end of August, said this week that studies show that while handle has increased 44 percent over the past decade, purses have risen only 25 percent when supplements from slot machines are not included.

Twenty years ago, when the vast majority of money was bet at the racetrack, the relationship between purses and handle was much simpler, with both rising or falling in roughly equal amounts. But as more and more bettors wager from offtrack sites and in their homes, and with wagering dollars split up among more and more stakeholders, the revenues that go to racetracks and, consequently, purses, have declined.

Task force members said this week that a study by Louis Guth, an economist with the New York consulting firm NERA, strongly supports the contention that some tracks may be better off limiting distribution of their simulcast signal in order to protect revenues. But the NTRA and other industry groups cannot make any specific recommendation to any tracks because of fears of violating anti-trust rules, the officials said.

The task force has also examined the role of rebate shops on wagering and purses. Members said that data collected by the task force has shown that bettors in rebate shops are beating the takeout by 15 to 30 percentage points, which one task force member characterized as a "phenomenal" rate. The task force members stressed that no illegal activities have been found at the rebate shops that participated in the study.

The findings of the task force will be presented by Greg Avioli, the interim president of the NTRA. Avioli was appointed interim president in late July after Tim Smith, the NTRA's president, resigned to pursue a top position at the New York Racing Association. Smith is expected to accept the NYRA position later this month.

Smith previously was the deputy commissioner of the PGA Tour. At the Round Table, the current PGA commissioner, Tim Finchem, will deliver the keynote address. The Jockey Club, which puts on the Round Table, said that Finchem will address the "significance of centralized structure in professional sports."

Among others speaking at the Round Table will be D.G. Van Clief, the NTRA's interim chief executive, who will deliver an update on the NTRA's progress over the past year.