01/23/2007 1:00AM

Willmot urges simulcast reform


Tuesday's session of the 31st Asian Racing Conference in Dubai brought warnings of a dire future for racing in North America from David Willmot, the chief executive of Woodbine Entertainment Group in Ontario.

Racing in the United States and Canada may face a "very, very dark future," Willmot said, unless racetracks joined in forming an organization that could take control of simulcasting, the form of wagering that is responsible for the largest percentage of racing's income.

"The Internet changed everything," Willmot said. "We lost all control of our pricing and distribution, and that is the biggest danger we face today. We are in a fight for our lives and we have to retake control of our business."

To illustrate his point, Willmot noted that the New York Racing Association is in bankruptcy, Magna Entertainment Corp., North America's largest racetrack operator, has lost more than $100 million in each of the last three years, and Churchill Downs Inc. has sold off some of its tracks, including Hollywood Park, to maintain its financial position.

Tristram Ricketts, chief executive of Britain's Levy Board, urged racing to take a two-pronged approach to funding. He suggested that maintaining a competitive racing product for offtrack players must be counterbalanced by a vigorous promotion of the on-course product as "an exciting, colorful, and distinctive live entertainment."