'Challenge,' Account-Bet Problem Tackled by NTRA

The National Thoroughbred Racing Association continues to examine a vehicle to bring back the Great State Challenge later this year, and also is working with Visa in regard to a policy change that has hindered state-sanctioned account wagering in the United States.

The NTRA board of directors met June 5 in New York for its regular meeting, most of which was spent discussing the organization's new strategic priorities as developed during a February retreat. NTRA commissioner Tim Smith said the board tackled wagering and totalizator technology, legislative and regulatory issues, uniform medication and drug testing, television, and the proposed Thoroughbred Championship Tour.

To that end, it plans to update its business plan for 2002-2005 to include additional priorities and update existing ones.

The board had set a June 5 deadline for a decision on the Great State Challenge, designed to pit the top state-breds against each other in a year-end championship. It was held for the first time last year at Sam Houston Race Park, and most likely would return there if the board decides to move ahead with the program.

Smith said the board extended its decision deadline to the end of July "based on promising pending sponsorship discussions." The NTRA has said sponsorships are necessary to bolster the concept, which breed association representatives have said needs some tweaking.

The situation that impacted account-wagering providers developed in late May when Visa, in an attempt to half offshore wagering, implemented a policy that blocks some credit-card transactions. It involves a specific "merchant category code" for online gambling that doesn't differentiate between sanctioned and non-sanctioned gambling.

Smith said the NTRA and others in the industry are working with Visa and member banks to "clarify and amend" the policy to produce a result that differentiates between legal and non-sanctioned gambling.

The TCT, as it is called, would be a for-profit, owner-driven racing series that would bridge the gap between the Triple Crown and Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships. It would feature five event-day stakes programs and television coverage of the races.

An NTRA committee has been meeting with the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association to discuss the proposal, and Smith said the discussion phase would continue. No decisions on the TCT were made during the NTRA board's June 5 meeting.