An experiment to gauge the effects of terminating racetrack exclusivity agreements for taking bets among the state's ADW companies has increased overall handle and impressed most of the industry's stake holders. But as the eight-month trial period that began with last fall's Hollywood Park meeting nears its July 13 cutoff, TVG, the biggest of the four account wagering providers, could be opting out.
TVG has exclusive agreements with the three remaining major Thoroughbred meets in the southern half of the state -- Del Mar, Fairplex and Oak Tree. All that's left, as far as exclusive California content is concerned, is the Magna Entertainment-owned Golden Gate Fields stand this fall.
John Hindman, TVG's general counsel, told the California Horse Racing Board June 27 that in order to continue the arrangement, his company needs a better exchange of ADW content at fair prices.
The current experiment is to end with the conclusion of Hollywood Park's spring/summer meet. Coming up next is Del Mar, which ranks among the nation's biggest meets in overall handle and fan interest. The 2008 Breeders' Cup will be contested at Oak Tree, another big ticket event for the account wagering provider.
That's quite a bit to give away, commission chairman Richard Shapiro acknowledged.
Shapiro, noting that the CHRB has no standing to require TVG to abrogate its exclusive contracts, requested that ADW stake holders meet in the week following the July 4 weekend to see if it can come to a resolution before the Del Mar summer meet begins. While there was general enthusiasm for that, Hindman had left the meeting at the Alameda County Fairgrounds simulcast facility by the time the suggestion was made.
Before he departed, Hindman said he was disappointed in the results of the trial. He noted that while wagering had increased at about 8% over the comparable time period of a year ago, it had grown by even more than that, at 10.8%, in the preceding year. Likewise, he said, out-of-state wagering has increased 9.6% during the experiment, but had jumped by 12.5% in the same time frame during 2006-07.
"Since it has increased every year, ADW growth is not the real question," he said. "The question is: Did it grow more?
"People thought that with shared content, it would grow a lot," Hindman added. "We weren't as sure, but we thought it would grow more than it did. We were disappointed."
Hindman explained TVG's position succinctly. "What we've seen so far is robbing Peter to pay Paul," he said. "For the first 3 1/2 months (of the trial period), we were Paul. Now we're Peter."
California totals showed that all the state's major Thoroughbred tracks have enjoyed ADW growth during the non-exclusive period, but none more so than Santa Anita Park, which jumped 48.15% in average daily handle over the 2006-07 meet. The Arcadia track has consistently lagged behind Hollywood and Del Mar because Xpressbet previously held the exclusive rights to its home betting contract, and it is less popular with bettors than TVG and its partner, Youbet.com.
With the additional providers taking wagers during the recent 77-day winter/spring stand, Santa Anita's ADW numbers jumped from $1,163,282 per day to $1,723,436.
That figure approached the current spring/summer Hollywood Park daily average ADW handle of $1,942,250, according to the state's most recent numbers. That represented a 12.98% increase in daily handle over the corresponding period a year ago for the track, which was previously exclusive to TVG.
Hindman noted, though, that "our inability to televise Santa Anita and Golden Gate minimized the impact that we could deliver."
Xpressbet, as part of Magna Entertainment along with HRTV, holds the rights to Santa Anita and Golden Gate. The experiment covered only wagering exclusivity and did not extend to broadcasting rights.
During the trial period, according to figures provided by CHRB staff, the Hollywood Park fall meet increased 12.06% in total average daily ADW handle to $1,615,336. Golden Gate Fields was up 5.5% to $486,372. Even Bay Meadows, which already had a non-exclusive agreement with all licensed providers in the state, was up 10.63% to $535,245 per day.
Representatives from TVG's rivals, Xpressbet and TrackNet Media (Twin Spires), said they were quite pleased with the results and gave the board assurances that they would like to see shared wagering content agreements continue into the future. They argued that it was for the good of the industry and popular with fans, since it made it no longer necessary for bettors to hold multiple accounts in order to wager on all California races.
TrackNet Media's wagering platforms are part of the Churchill Downs Incorporated network.
Hollywood Park president Jack Liebau, speaking for Youbet.com, said that while he agreed with TVG that the non-exclusive arrangement yielded somewhat disappointing results, he would like to see shared wagering content continue.
"It was successful, but not as successful as we would have liked," he said. "Santa Anita did very well by TVG coming on board. They were probably the biggest beneficiaries."
Representatives from Del Mar, Oak Tree, Santa Anita and Golden Gate Fields spoke strongly in support, as did the president of Thoroughbred Owners of California.
"As far as I can tell, there are no losers in this deal," said Craig Fravel, executive vice president of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club. "TVG may not have had as large a margin as they would have liked. But I've been watching their press releases and they seem to be doing pretty good."
Fravel said he would like to see the non-exclusive arrangement extended not only through the end of this year, but through 2009 as well.
Added Ron Charles, representing MEC, "If you heard from the fans, you'd hear 100 percent that they want this to continue. They are speaking with their wagering dollars."
The TOC's Drew Couto summed up by saying that the trial period saw increases in total ADW handle, track commissions, purses and ADW company revenue, creating happy fans and horsemen while improving access to race signals.
He warned that if the arrangement does not continue, ADW companies would be required to negotiate with the Thoroughbred Horsemen Group, the national consortium of 18 horsemen associations, for any future interstate signal agreements for California.
"What we have concluded is that this experiment was an unqualified success if you look at it for the good of the industry," Couto said.