Autotote Looks to Add Racing Channel in Connecticut

By Associated Press

Officials in Connecticut are considering a proposal to bring gambling into Connecticut residents' homes.

The Division of Special Revenue is debating whether to allow a cable access television channel that would show horse racing and let viewers place bets over the phone, The Hartford Courant reported.

A public hearing is scheduled for Thursday at 10 a.m. in Newington.

Autotote Enterprises Inc. submitted the plan.

"It's a beautiful thing to watch," Autotote President John L. Ponzio said of live horse racing. "It would be available to any subscriber that wants it. We feel it is a natural outlet for our product."

Opponents are lining up against the company's proposal, saying it is another example of the insidious spread of gambling throughout Connecticut. They also say it is illegal.

Autotote says broadcasting horse racing on TV is constitutionally protected commercial speech, but others disagree.

"It sends a chill down my spine," said the Rev. Alexis Carol, program director for the Connecticut Council on Problem Gambling. "It is really creating something new, a new gambling venue and one that is more tempting and tantalizing."

Autotote is seeking a formal ruling from Special Revenue on whether the state legislature's moratorium on additional OTB facilities applies to a television show that features horse racing. Autotote already has the authority to conduct telephone-wagering on races.

Lawyers for Autotote argue that broadcasting a horse race is "constitutionally protected commercial speech" that they will fight to uphold.

"Gambling is not constitutionally protected commercial speech," said state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who earlier this year successfully blocked a state lottery scheme to bring lottery-style gambling to home computers. A horse racing show tied into a betting service is illegal in Connecticut, he said.

"It violates the moratorium. The number of simulcasting facilities in the state is limited to eight. This proposal would create a simulcasting facility in every household," Blumenthal said. "The TV broadcast of horse races is legally acceptable, but there simply cannot be a link between the broadcast and the betting service."

Ponzio said televised racing could boost his company's revenues from telephone wagering from $12 million to $18 million a year. The state received $5.7 million from all OTB operations in 2002.

With gambling now pervasive in the state, from the nearly 3,000 lottery ticket vendors to two of the world's largest casinos to the 18 already operating OTB locations, Ponzio said a horse racing channel is hardly an expansion.

"All we are doing is putting racing on TV," Ponzio said. "It's not an OTB parlor. It's not an expansion of gambling. All we are doing is nothing more than an expansion of what's already available."