TVG Preparing for California Market

By Jack Shinar
When California introduces account wagering, the TV Games Network will be ready for a full assault. Perhaps the last great frontier for the home-wagering revolution, the Golden State represents a golden opportunity for TVG when advance-deposit wagering becomes legal in the state Jan. 1, 2002.

"Unlike the other major racing regions, California is undeveloped (for the home wagering market)," said Mark Wilson, chief executive officer of TVG. "There are only about 30 destinations for satellite or live racing in the entire state. California (automobile) traffic is tough no matter where you live in the state. So this should be a very good opportunity."

Wilson believes the greatest opportunity in California, where about $2.5 billion is wagered on horse racing annually, is for bringing the "casual or lapsed fan" back into racing's fold. "These are the people who used to go to the track and enjoy racing, but now work and have families and less leisure time, so they can't make it out to the track."

By stressing high-quality production values, Wilson is hopeful his network will attract new fans to the sport as well. Wide distribution is the key, he said.

TVG, owned by a division of Gemstar-TV Guide, is affiliated with Liberty Media and News Corp., which owns FOX Television Enterprises. Its corporate family includes cable television giant Telecommunications Inc (TCI), AT&T, and Adelphia Cable. Wilson said TVG is in negotiations with Time Warner and Cox for cable placement.

In addition, TVG currently has 650,000 satellite Dish Network connections in the state, he said.

TVG will be at a disadvantage when account wagering takes effect in California because it does not have a broadcast agreement with Santa Anita Park or Gulfstream Park, two of the nation's top winter/spring meets. Magna Entertainment owns both tracks.

Magna, formerly affiliated with The Racing Network, which closed up shop this year, has not announced its account wagering or home television strategy.

"Magna has expressed an interest in going it alone, and we certainly don't have a problem with that," Wilson said. "In fact, we welcome the competition. But whatever they do with regard to account wagering, we hope it includes television. There's nothing being discussed, but our door is open."

In California, races will be broadcast on many of the state's cable television outlets and by satellite as part of "America's Top 40" basic package on the Dish Network. Home players, once they are signed up with an account, and the California Horse Racing Board has approved TVG's license, will be able to bet via remote control unit from their cable television boxes.