Woodbine Looks To Commingle With U.S. Pools

Woodbine Entertainment Group, owner of Canada's largest racetrack, has filed applications that would allow its customers to place wagers directly into common pools at two tracks in the United States--The Meadowlands in New Jersey, and Calder Race Course in Florida. Similar applications for New York and California are slated to follow, said Steve Mitchell, WEG senior vice president and chief financial officer.

"Canada has been betting on most of the major U.S. tracks in its own separate pool for about a decade now," Mitchell said. "Obviously we have much smaller pools than those host tracks. As a result, the takeouts are generally higher, and we also have a number of statutory deductions we must apply.

"From the customer's perspective we are hearing how easy it is now to bet around these pools through mechanisms like account wagering and offshore betting. Whether we like it or not, we have to make the switch."

Mitchell said the impetus for the move came last fall when the U.S. lifted a 30% withholding tax on foreign bets made into U.S. pools.

"It has taken a while to get this done," Mitchell said. "But our federal regulators require a track-by-track application, and that we identify differences in racing and wagering rules between each state and our own way of doing business, and then to advise our customers in advance of what these differences are. For instance, a pick three in Florida may have different rules and different payoffs when one leg doesn't have a winner."

Mitchell said what's good for Woodbine customers may not necessarily be a windfall for Canadian tracks.

"We expect that at least at our track revenues will go down," he said. "The takeout on our separate pools is generally higher than U.S. takeout, so when we switch, we'll match the majority of U.S. rules with some exceptions."

Mitchell cited a Canadian 28% takeout on trifecta bets that goes toward federal and provincial taxes, as well as a 4% breeders' industry levy.

"At the end of the day our customers will gain," Mitchell said. "It is something they are looking for, and something that we wish to deliver to them."

Mitchell said WEG sent a questionnaire to all major U.S. tracks in November but failed to get a huge response. He said some states that replied mentioned potential problems like currency conversions on minimum bet values and some offered no reply at all.

Mitchell said New York and California applications are in the offing, with Kentucky soon to follow.

"The reason we initially chose New Jersey and Florida was because it looked like they had the closest and most compatible rules to how we do it here," Mitchell said. "We also had good indications from those tracks they would work with us to iron out any differences.

"We hope that once some of the U.S. tracks start up the others will follow suit. The wagering in Canada on this product is $600 million, and we suspect some of these places that get an early leg up will get a share of that pot."

Mitchell said he hopes to see direct betting into pools at the Meadowlands harness meet by June.