MidAtlantic Cooperative Official Expresses 'Frustration' Over Simulcasting Impasse

In a letter to a senior vice president of the New York Racing Association, the executive director of the MidAtlantic Cooperative of racetracks voiced his frustration at the organization's inability to come to terms with NYRA and the TVG Network over simulcasting issues.

"We write to you to express our frustration with the situation and our inability to deal with an unwillingly entity who apparently has a different agenda than MidAtlantic and NYRA," MidAtlantic Cooperative's Martin Lieberman said in a letter to NYRA VP Bill Nader. "This was confirmed last evening (Tuesday) and earlier this morning (Wednesday) when MidAtlantic received a TVG response to its most recent proposal and after you suggested that we again speak to TVG. TVG now claims that it cannot deal with MidAtlantic members on an equal basis because of pre-existing issues with two of its members, issues unrelated to the present impasse with NYRA. These are TVG issues, they are not NYRA or MidAtlantic matters, yet TVG continues to thwart resolution of what your co-chief operating officer recently characterized as 'smaller issues' and 'differences [which] don't seem insurmountable."

The consortium, which represents harness and Thoroughbred tracks in eight states from Virginia to Massachusetts, yanked NYRA's signal after the New York racing corporation entered into an exclusive simulcasting contract with TV Games Network. Among the components of the contract -- which NYRA has refused to make public -- is a restriction of account wagering in Virginia and New Hampshire, as well as a ban in Pennsylvania tracks from taking NYRA's live television signal.

NYRA officials say that while its revenue is off $800,000 million since the MidAtlantic Cooperative pulled Belmont's signal in mid-September, the 19 racetracks in the consortium have lost $3.2 million. MidAtlantic officials dispute that, and a top racing industry analyst says there is really no clear way of knowing how much the tracks have lost.

In his letter, Lieberman outlined the genesis of the stalemate, noting that it began with the MidAtlantic Cooperative's attempt to renew its simulcasting contract with NYRA.

"The outstanding issue of account wagering remained an obstacle to the parties' final agreement," Lieberman wrote. "MidAtlantic's several submissions of redrafted proposals, including those which would limit MidAtlantic's previous account wagering rights while continuing to enable its members to provide account wagering where permitted by law, were met with your repeated suggestion that MidAtlantic speak with TVG.

"We have had at least four telephone meetings with TVG's senior officers, the first of which occurred prior to the interruption of simulcasting within the region. We received no answer to our initial inquiry of TVG, other than an obstinate insistence that 'a deal is a deal' and 'NYRA has no grounds to give on that issue.' There were no substantive responses to our attempts to resolve the issue during subsequent telephone meetings other than outright rejections. As a result of TVG's intransigence, racing fans within a significant area are being denied account wagering, particularly in states where TVG is neither licensed, deployed or permitted to operate by law. NYRA simulcasts have been absent for over four weeks, as TVG attempts to force its way into states at the expense of the fans, the racetracks and the horsemen. There is no winner, everyone has been hurt, though neither by the design of MidAtlantic nor, we trust, of NYRA.

"We are convinced that it was not NYRA's intention to restrain simulcasting of its product, certainly not after years of unparalleled growth in the industry," Lieberman said. "Yet, so long as TVG interferes with the local racetracks, in the name of prior disputes, there will be no NYRA account wagering in virtually every middle Atlantic state. TVG is unlicensed, unwelcome and generally unable to provide NYRA, and other products, in the region. Whatever TVG's motivation, it is clearly not in the best interests of racing. We are ready to sit with you and settle this matter. Let us go forward in the immediate future, based on the proven relationships of the past."