03/14/2011 3:59PM

Twinspires given California license deadline


Twinspires.com, the largest account-wagering operation in the U.S., will have its license to do business in California revoked on Friday if the company has not reached an agreement to carry races from California racetracks by then, according to a motion approved by the California Horse Racing Board on Monday.

The board voted to attach the conditions to the company’s license renewal after expressing frustration with the lack of an agreement to offer races from California racetracks and the company’s efforts earlier this year to retain a share of higher takeout rates that were slated to go to purses at state tracks.

“Frankly, I’ve had enough,” said Keith Brackpool, the chairman of the board, while crafting the motion.

Twinspires.com is owned by Churchill Downs Inc. Built largely through the acquisition of competitors, including California-based Youbet.com, twinspires.com has aggressively sought to capture a large share of the account-wagering market, sometimes through negotiations that drag on until the last minute. The company’s current contract expires at the end of the Santa Anita meet in April.

Scott Daruty, the president of Monarch Content Management Services, which sells the simulcast rights to California tracks, said that the two companies were not that far apart on terms over a new contract. “I would think we could get this wrapped up in 72 hours,” Daruty said.

California is the largest market for account wagering in the U.S. If twinspires.com’s license were to be revoked, the company would no longer be able to take wagers from California residents.

Also at the meeting on Monday, the CHRB approved a 54-day race meet at Hollywood Park. The meet will run from Apr. 21 to July 17, with racing four days a week, from Thursday to Sunday, with night racing on most Fridays. Hollywood plans to card eight races on most Thursday and Fridays, with nine or ten races on Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays.

After the board approved the meet, several commissioners sought clarification from Hollywood officials on the track’s long-term plans considering the speculation surrounding the 2012 racing calendar. Santa Anita, the Los Angeles area’s second major Thoroughbred track, has hinted that it will apply for substantially more racing dates that year.

Jack Liebau, the president of Hollywood’s management group, said that he had notified the track’s owners, Stockbridge Capital Group, that the ability of Hollywood to obtain its traditional dates in 2012 was “in doubt.” The board’s chairman, Keith Brackpool, had pressed Hollywood to commit to a long-term schedule, but Stockbridge remains reluctant to provide that commitment, Liebau said.

Stockbridge has received zoning approvals to develop the Hollywood property for housing and retail, but the group’s plans to redevelop the property remain in limbo because of the depressed local real-estate market. Liebau said that Stockbridge continues to provide sufficient operating funds for the track despite a marginal rate of return on its investment, citing the track’s efforts to lure high-profile performing artists for its Friday concert series.

“If we were a lame duck, we would not have Snoop Dogg on a Friday night,” Liebau said.

The commission also said that it was keeping a close watch on the fatality rate at the ongoing Santa Anita meet, which is conducting its winter stand over a newly installed dirt surface. At least a dozen horses have suffered fatal breakdowns since the meet opened in late December, compared to two fatalities over the track’s artificial surface through the entire winter meet last year, which ended in mid-April.

Brackpool said that board officials have been meeting with horsemen and consultants to discuss the spike, and that the board plans to add an agenda item to its April meeting to explore the issue.

“Safety, safety, safety has to be of paramount interest to us,” Brackpool said.