California Approves License for TwinSpires.com

As California continues to wrestle with improving advance deposit wagering, the state welcomed a new provider.

At its Oct. 18 meeting in Arcadia, the California Horse Racing Board granted TwinSpires.com an ADW license, making it the fourth company to offer home computer betting on horse racing in the state.

TwinSpires.com will start taking wagers in California on Oct. 19, said vice president Brad Blackwell, just in time for next week’s Breeders Cup.

“Our brand dates back to 1875, but we’re very modern,” Blackwell said. “We’ve established an office in Silicon Valley and we’re dedicated to offering an innovative product.”

A subsidiary of Churchill Downs Inc., the new ADW service joins TVG, Magna Entertainment’s Xpressbet and Youbet.com as legal home wagering companies in California.

CDI had pulled its interests out of California in 2005 with the sale of Hollywood Park. Its ADW branch marks a return to California racing.

To start its California service, TwinSpires.com has agreements with Bay Meadows and Golden Gate Fields. Because a new ADW law takes effect Jan. 1, this initial license is good only until Dec. 31 and TwinSpires.com will be back before the CHRB in the coming weeks for another approval. Before year-end, TwinSpires.com expects to have agreements with Santa Anita and possibly Hollywood Park. The service also offers several out-of-state tracks.

“We’re working with all the tracks,” Blackwell said.

Legalized in 2002, ADW now accounts for 13.4 percent of all race wagering in California, according to the CHRB.  In the 2006-07 fiscal year, the three ADW companies operating in the state handled almost $588 million from California bettors. With TwinSpires.com’s addition, that figure is expected to grow.

“We hope it brings new revenue and new players to California racing,” CHRB chairman Richard Shapiro said.

With a new ADW law signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Oct. 13, the CHRB is still wrestling with how to make ADW less complicated. Current exclusivity agreements restrict which tracks are offered by which Internet services, creating confusion and frustration for many fans.

“ADW – in my mind -- is the most complex aspect we deal with in horse racing,” Shapiro said.  

Hollywood Park, which opens its fall-winter meet Nov. 7, is negotiating an agreement with TVG and the Thoroughbred Owners of California, representing horsemen, that would open up e-wagering on that track to all providers, although TVG would retain exclusive TV rights. The CHRB approved Hollywood Park’s application for its fall meet, but scheduled an Oct. 30 meeting to review the track’s ADW arrangements.

“This could be the start of ADW peace for all parties,” Hollywood Park president Jack Liebau said. “This model might be successful and used throughout California.”

David Nathanson, senior vice president and general manager of TVG, called the model “a great experiment.” In addition, TVG is working with Hollywood Park's owner, Bay Meadows Land Co., to gain exclusive broadcasting rights to its sister track, Bay Meadows.

“Probably the biggest lesson we’ve learned from ADW is that television matters,” Nathanson said.  “That’s why we’re so excited about this. Television remains exclusive as part of the deal. We’ve never had exclusive television rights to Bay Meadows. It would enable us to reach a new audience.”

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