XpressBet Said to Take Off on First Weekend

by Jack Shinar

XpressBet, Magna Entertainment's revamped Internet and telephone service for in-home wagering, was "overwhelmed" by applications from prospective customers during its launch Jan. 26-27, a top company official said.

"The system has been overwhelmed, and we put up the notice (the morning of Jan. 28 on the Web site home page) about possible delays," said Andrew Gaughan, MEC's vice president for new media initiatives. "(The delays) could go up to 48 hours, but we're working to turn around applications much more quickly. We're now focused operationally and taking steps to eliminate the waits."

Because of the heavy volume of traffic to the site (www.xpressbet.com) during the weekend, it was common for new customers to experience technical difficulties in filling out and submitting the online contract to XpressBet, Gaughan said. Waits of up to an hour and sometimes more were common for those who attempted to sign up by telephone.

Gaughan said he would have the number of new subscribers the first full week of February. "We've been really busy," he said. "I don't have the report or final numbers yet, but business has exceeded our expectations, and we're happy about that."

The launch of the service quickly followed XpressBet's authorization Jan. 24 as an advance-deposit wagering operator by the California Horse Racing Board. The CHRB also approved the application of the TV Guide-Gemstar-owned TV Games Network to conduct account wagering.

Magna owns California's Santa Anita Park and Golden Gate Fields, both of which currently are in operation. Because of that, Magna has the edge over TVG as account wagering debuts in the state. TVG has been unable to negotiate the rights to broadcast signals from Magna-owned tracks.

Gaughan said on-track sign-up booths at Golden Gate and Santa Anita were "extremely busy" Jan. 26-27. Several hundred customers signed up, he said.

"Our early returns show there's a real interest and demand," Gaughan said. "We're working like heck on all aspects to get everybody signed up and activated."

Gaughan said it was unfortunate that XpressBet's growing pains caused problems for some fans. "But overall, we're very, very happy," he said. "It shows there is a real market demand in California for this service."