06/17/2008 11:00PM

TOC may restrict Del Mar signal


The Thoroughbred Owners of California is prepared to prevent Del Mar from making its signal available to out-of-state customers of national account-wagering platforms unless the signal is made available to all account-wagering operations or the group's horsemen get a higher percentage of the bets, the top official of the TOC said on Wednesday.

Drew Couto, the executive director of the TOC, said that the organization is prepared to take the action to signal that it is dissatisfied with the economics of account wagering.

As part of the plan, the TOC board on Tuesday authorized an outside company, Thoroughbred Horsemen's Group, to conduct its negotiations with account-wagering companies, but only in the absence of an extension of a popular experiment that allows all national account-wagering operations to offer betting on signals in California.

The experiment began last fall after the California Horse Racing Board took charge of negotiations with account-wagering companies. The experiment is set to expire with the conclusion of the Hollywood Park meet on July 13. Del Mar is scheduled to begin its high-profile seven-week meet on July 16.

Del Mar is currently in the last year of a contract with Television Games Network, the leader in market share among account-wagering companies. TVG has an agreement with another account-wagering company, Youbet.com, that allows Youbet to offer wagering on the signal from Del Mar, but TVG does not have agreements with the two other major account-wagering companies, Twinspires.com and XpressBet.

Couto said that if the agreement is not extended and TVG does not increase its payments to horsemen from out-of-state bets, the group will use its rights under the Interstate Horseracing Act to deny the signal to the out-of-state account-wagering customers of TVG and Youbet.

"We have the right under federal law to consent or not or set the terms of the contract, and that's what we intend to do," Couto said.

John Hindman, TVG's general counsel, declined to comment specifically on the TOC threat, but he said that TVG "is evaluating the results of the experiment, and we are exploring our options."

He would not say whether TVG would support an extension, a topic that is on the agenda of the CHRB's next meeting on June 27.

Craig Fravel, the executive vice president of Del Mar, said on Wednesday that Del Mar has told the CHRB that it supports the extension. He declined to comment on the TOC's threat because he had not yet been told of the TOC's position.

Richard Shapiro, the chairman of the CHRB, was traveling on Wednesday and unavailable for comment.

Aside from influencing the discussion at the June 27 CHRB meeting, the TOC threat will likely generate hard feelings among account-wagering horseplayers who have faced numerous signal blackouts this year. The blackouts are principally related to the lack of an agreement between the Thoroughbred Horsemen's Group and TrackNet, a simulcast-marketing partnership owned by Churchill Downs Inc. and Magna Entertainment. Churchill owns Twinspires.com, and Magna owns XpressBet.

As a result of the dispute, the signals controlled by Churchill Downs and Magna have been blacked out on every national account-wagering company since spring. THG has pressed TrackNet to provide horsemen a third of the revenue from account-wagering bets, but TrackNet has balked.

THG officials have stated that the one-third split is fair for horsemen. Purses typically receive approximately one-fifth to one-fourth of the revenue from account-wagering bets, depending on the contract and source-market fees.