01/29/2008 12:00AM

Youbet plans Illinois operation


Youbet.com has reached an agreement with four Illinois racetracks to launch an account-wagering platform available to state residents, the company said on Tuesday.

The launch of the site would be the most visible attempt by an account-wagering company to market online betting in Illinois, a state that does not, by law, explicitly prohibit or permit account wagering.

The agreement, which Youbet officials described as a partnership, will split revenue from wagering and the marketing costs for the site equally among the tracks, horsemen, and Youbet. Company officials said that a date for the launch of the new site - youbetillinois.com - has not yet been set, but that the company expects the site to be operational in spring.

The four tracks involved in the partnership are Hawthorne and Fairmount Park, which are Thoroughbred tracks, and Maywood and Balmoral, two harness tracks.

With the uncertainty of the legality of the practice, some account-wagering companies have quietly allowed Illinois residents to open accounts and place bets on horse racing, but no company has openly marketed its services in the state.

The only clear signal about the legality of account wagering in Illinois came in 2001, when the state's attorney general at the time, Jim Ryan, responding to a request from the Illinois Racing Board, issued a 21-page opinion asserting that account-wagering violated state law.

Scott Mulford, a spokesman for the present attorney general, Lisa Madigan, said Tuesday that because the state and federal laws examined in the 2001 paper had not changed, the opinion issued by Ryan was supported by Madigan.

"The opinion speaks for itself," Mulford said.

Katie Ridgway, a spokesperson for the Illinois Racing Board, said that board officials had been made aware of the Youbet agreement but had not determined whether account-wagering companies were violating state law by taking wagers.

"We are taking the new developments under consideration, and the board will be reviewing its options," Ridgway said.

William Schmitt, a spokesman for Youbet, confirmed that the company has taken wagers from Illinois residents in the past.

"Youbet offers advanced-deposit wagering in a number of states that could be considered gray, where there's no law that says you can take ADW bets and there's no law that says you can't," Schmitt said. "We will only do that until someone comes out and tells us not to."

Twinspires.com, the account-wagering company owned by Churchill Downs Inc., also lists Illinois as one of 33 states in which residents may open accounts. Churchill officials declined on Tuesday to comment on the company's interpretation of Illinois law. Churchill owns Arlington Park in Illinois, the most popular Thoroughbred track in the state.

Legislators in Illinois have included language in bills recently that would explicitly legalize account wagering, but no legislation has passed. Schmitt said that Youbet was hopeful that legislation addressing the issue would be passed in the next several months, before the launch of the new Illinois site.