Magna Works on Account Wagering Strategy

by Jack Shinar

With the possibility of account wagering in California as soon as Jan. 1, officials at Magna Entertainment Corp., the owner of three major racetracks in the state, is keeping its plans quiet -- for now.

The law that legalizes account wagering, or advance deposit wagering, takes effect Jan. 1, or whenever regulations approved by the California Horse Racing Board pass through administrative channels. A proposed set of regulations is set for a first public hearing Nov. 30.

Competition for subscribers is expected to be fierce in California, which accounts for an estimated 12% to 13% of wagering nationwide.

Magna, which owns Santa Anita Park, Bay Meadows, and Golden Gate Fields in California, is expected to be in the forefront of the battle, along with the TV Games Network, which carries the home-betting signal for Hollywood Park, Del Mar, and the Oak Tree at Santa Anita meet.

The corporation's executive board was rumored to have met the final week in October to discuss its strategy for account wagering.

"We're preparing to enter into discussions with our industry partners, and we will be meeting with our internal management group (to work out details)," said Andrew Gaughan, vice president of new media initiatives for Magna. "But we don't want to release our plans through the media until we've completed our internal discussions."

Gaughan, formerly with the Ontario Jockey Club (Woodbine Entertainment), said he would be able to release details of the Magna strategy by mid-November. Originally, Magna reported it would provide an account wagering system through its Web site, where it would provide streaming audio and video of its races. Gaughan wouldn't confirm that.

Magna formerly was affiliated with The Racing Network, which closed up shop in the United States earlier this year. Last winter, TRN broadcast races from Magna-owned Gulfstream Park and Santa Anita.

Magna may address how it can beam its races into bettors' homes, if in fact it will. With its purchase this year of The Meadows, a Standardbred track in western Pennsylvania, Magna picked up the Call-A-Bet account wagering service and an established cable television program that broadcasts live racing in Pennsylvania.

Magna president and chief executive officer Jim McAlpine was not available for comment.

A number of issues must be resolved in California, including the number of signals or races Californians may receive. Existing simulcasting laws strictly limit the amount that can be imported.

The proposed CHRB regulations do not state whether tracks will accept wagers from a single account system or multiple systems, or how those systems will charge customers.

Jack Liebau, Magna's director of California racing, told the CHRB he anticipates such matters will be a part of the contractual arrangements between the tracks and the system operators.