A top executive for Magna Entertainment Corp. told the California Horse Racing Board's parimutuel committee Wednesday that the company's inability to find suitable television distribution for its Santa Anita signal has "caused us chagrin."
Ed Hannah, executive vice president for Magna's corporate development, representing the company's XpressBet account wagering and Horse Racing Television Network (HRTV) offshoots, told the committee, "We worked very hard throughout 2002," but were unable to work out a daily television deal in California.
He said Santa Anita has a five-hour Saturday show on Los Angeles-area station KDOC, but has not been able to replace the two-hour daily program that had previously been aired on FOX Sports West 2. That telecast was bumped when the Magna rival, Television Games Network, entered into an agreement with FOX Sports to air its races instead. In addition, a nightly replay show that had been on KDOC for many years was canceled prior to the current meeting. The only presence for HRTV in California is over the digital Time-Warner band in San Diego, which has the potential of reaching 60,000 subscribers, Hannah explained.
"I find this a very unfortunate circumstance," responded committee chairman Alan Landsburg, a strong proponent of the use of television to attract new fans to horse racing. He said the situation is far from what the CHRB envisioned from Magna when commissioners granted XpressBet its account-wagering license a year ago.
"What we are getting is half of what we had hoped for, and one-half is very disappointing," said Landsburg, a longtime TV producer.
He suggested Magna should look beyond its current efforts and consider a deal with TVG. He reminded Hannah of recent remarks by TVG's president, Mark Wilson, that the Gemstar/TV Guide-owned network would be willing to broadcast Magna's tracks.
"In late 2001 or early 2002, our organization put out a policy statement," noted Hannah. "We stated we would be willing to make our signal available to other entities if they are willing to make theirs available to us. The problem with Wilson's position is that he is only talking about (Magna's signal) being on TVG."
Elsewhere, the committee is considering a "stop-bet" proposal of about 30 to 45 seconds before the start of each California race for off-shore wagering companies whose large last-minute additions to betting pools continues to cause havoc with actual odds. It was noted that on Dec. 19, the winner of the sixth race at Hollywood Park went from 24-1 to 12-1 on the final click of the totalizator while the race was in progress. On Dec. 21, the winner of the ninth race dropped from 8-5 to 4-5 on the final click as well. Because wagers from off-shore account holders often travel through more than one hub -- called "double-hubbing" -- they land in the California pools after the race has started, officials explained.
While these and other incidents have been investigated and no evidence of "past posting" (betting after a race has started) has been found, officials concede there is a perception problem.
"I'd like to see a 30-second stop be put in there," said committee member Roger Licht. "I think it would help the betting public believe they are getting a fair shake."
Such a move could be a short-term solution while Autotote, the company that handles the state's wagering pools, develops faster turn-around time, suggested Ron Charles of the Thoroughbred Owners of California.
The CHRB already turned thumbs down on a Churchill Downs, Inc.-sponsored measure to cut off all wagering at post time, a move Landsburg applauded.
Autotote representative Dave Payton told the committee that the return of its "alternate selection" option for multi-race wagers like the Pick 6 remains off the table while the company works to improve its scanning methods for determining live tickets and flagging suspicious wagers. He said the alternate selection causes the scanning procedure to be blocked.
The committee requested that CHRB staff draft wording for a proposed $1 exotic wager called "Beat The Favorite." Handicapping author James Quinn presented the bet to the committee at its Monrovia hearing, saying, "It has the potential to produce big winners consistently."
Bettors would be required to select at least three races on a card in which they feel the race favorite will be beaten and select the winning horse as a single choice or in combination. The ticket or tickets with the highest return for the correct choices at the end of the day wins the day's pool. Failure to beat the favorite in any of the races selected makes the ticket a loser.