02/21/2002 12:00AM

Youbet good to go, says board

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CYPRESS, Calif. - The California Horse Racing Board on Thursday approved Youbet.com's application to begin accepting bets via telephone and Internet in the state.

Youbet becomes the third company licensed to offer such services, joining XpressBet, operated by Magna Entertainment, and TVG. Phone betting was legalized earlier this year and launched by those two companies on Jan. 25, a day after they received regulatory approval from the CHRB.

Through Feb. 18, those two companies have handled $5,155,008 on all breeds, according to CHRB figures, $1,944,860 by TVG and $3,210,148 by XpressBet.

Youbet had applied for a license at the January CHRB meeting, but the application was deferred until Thursday because it lacked several things, including a $500,000 security bond.

Youbet officials said their service was available to California bettors immediately. Youbet offers Internet and telephone betting. California betting is seen as vital for the survival of the Woodlands Hills, Calif.-based Youbet, which has recently encountered financial problems.

"This was very important," said Ron Luniewski, the co-chief executive officer of Youbet.com. "It gives us access to the largest market in the nation."

For now, Youbet will accept bets from only one California track - Los Alamitos, which offers mixed breed racing consisting primarily of Quarter Horses. The other tracks currently operating in California have agreements with XpressBet. Later this year, TVG and Youbet will offer bets from Del Mar, Hollywood Park, and Oak Tree at Santa Anita.

Luniewski said Youbet has 3,500 registered users in California using its website to watch racing nationwide. He said no bets were accepted from those users until Thursday.

Also at Thursday's meeting, executives from TVG and Magna made presentations about their first months of business. Both were criticized by chairman Alan Landsburg for not having telephone-system hubs in California. XpressBet is based in Pittsburgh, while TVG has facilities in Oregon.

Ed Hannah, the general counsel for Magna Entertainment, said XpressBet was working to decrease the telephone delays experienced by customers trying to open accounts or reach operators in recent weeks.

In his presentation, Hannah said XpressBet has 5,115 account holders in California. He said Xpressbet anticipated reaching $3 million in handle in 14 weeks, but did so in three.

Hannah said Magna hopes to reach an agreement with cable and satellite dish operators to launch racing networks later this year.

TVG has 2,000 account holders in California, according to general counsel John Hindman. TVG is available via satellite dish and some cable markets and will expand through digital cable in Southern California in April, Hindman said.