AmericaTab Handle Jumps Despite MEC Blackout

Handle through the AmericaTab family of account-wagering services was up almost 90% the first six days of January even though the services weren't permitted to offer betting on Magna Entertainment Corp. racetracks, including premier meets at Gulfstream Park and Santa Anita Park.

Charlie Ruma, owner of Beulah Park in Ohio and managing member of AmericaTab, said the numbers caught him by surprise given the absence of the two major meets. MEC, which operates the Xpressbet account-wagering service, has a new policy that either prevents other services from taking its tracks or greatly restricts which tracks they can offer.

Youbet.com has a deal to offer wagering on MEC's California tracks: Santa Anita and Golden Gate Fields, which are open now, and Bay Meadows later this spring. The company has said it is attempting to get approval to offer wagering on all MEC tracks.

In late December, Ruma said he would give money normally spent on "exorbitant host fees" charged by MEC to his customers in the form of contests, prizes, and rewards. AmericaTab has been offering what Ruma calls "cash rewards" in the neighborhood of 5% to 10% periodically on selected signals.

The rewards, in effect rebates, apparently have driven business. On a recent Saturday, a 10% cash reward on all wagers help boost handle on the Turfway Park program to about $76,000 from about $27,000 on a typical day. A one-day cash-back promotion on Fair Grounds races pushed handle from the usual $15,000 to $60,000.

"What we're doing is saying to our customers, 'We spent a lot of money on the signals from Magna, and now we're trying to get it back into your hands,' " Ruma said. "We have said AmericaTab will not simply be standing by. Offering an incentive to customers seems to be paying off."

Ruma said AmericaTab, an Ohio-owned company that hubs through Oregon, is careful when it selects products for the cash-rewards promotions. "I don't want to irritate anybody in the industry," he said.

AmericaTab, which includes services such as winticket.com, brisbet.com, and betharness.com, handled $60 million in 2002 and $102 million in 2003. Ruma said total handle for 2004 could increase 25% to 30% if current business is any indication.

Ruma has said he believes account wagering is the prime means to bolster handle on United States racing around the world. He said huge growth could become a reality if account-wagering companies change their "archaic thinking."

"To have Magna do what it's doing is totally dysfunctional to what the industry needs," Ruma said. "We need to start thinking about a worldwide product offering."

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