03/19/2002 12:00AM

Youbet exec jumps ship to Magna

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Ron Luniewski, the former co-chief executive officer of Youbet.com, the online horse racing wagering company, has resigned to oversee the interactive business of Magna Entertainment, a chief rival of Youbet.

"I believe Magna will be the dominant player in horse racing, in the content they have and the different distribution channels they will be getting into," Luniewski said.

Luniewski, who was elevated to co-chief executive officer of Youbet last year after the resignation of Robert Fell, said he will start at Magna in mid-April. Luniewski said that he will be responsible for the operation of XpressBet, Magna's new Internet and telephone wagering service.

Luniewski's departure from Youbet capped a week in which the company underwent a dramatic restructuring. Short on cash, Youbet's board of directors voted last week to take on the company's co-founder, David Marshall, as chief executive officer in return for his investment of $750,000.

Youbet currently has enough cash to operate for several months, said company officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Despite being one of the early innovators in interactive technology, the company has struggled to turn a profit.

As a result of the restructuring, four directors will step down from the board, including Luniewski, Fell, and prominent horse owner and breeder Caesar Kimmel. Several weeks ago, Hall of Fame jockey Chris McCarron resigned from the board, citing responsibilities at the Jockeys' Guild.

Philip Hermann, who was co-chief executive officer with Luniewski, did not return phone calls. Under the restructuring, Hermann stepped down as co-chief executive officer but took on the titles of Youbet's president, chief operating officer, and chief financial officer.

Youbet officials said they were confident Marshall could raise more money for the company. The restructuring plan is expected to be finalized by the end of end of March.