NTRA Revises Technology, Tote Plans

Though it will continue to work with IBM Global Services in the hope of one day having the industry hooked into a broadband network, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association has changed the direction of its technology plan to more or less work from the bottom up.

In other revisions announced Friday during the NTRA's first annual membership meeting, the plan to purchase or create a totalizator function has been shelved in favor of perhaps making the country's three major tote companies partners in a centralized industry operation. Also, any related marketing will be handled by the NTRA and not a separate technology company that had been proposed.

"(The IBM project) is not being abandoned," NTRA commissioner Tim Smith said. "We're taking a phased approach because it's more economically feasible. To install a broadband network on day one would involve an equity investment by this industry that's problematic."

Equibase Co. chairman Alan Marzelli, who has worked with IBM officials on the proposal, said his enthusiasm for it remains, and that the shift in priorities is typical whenever any major plan is put together. He said the next steps are to finalize the technology business plan and determine the capital requirements.

A report issued by an advisory committee to the NTRA had recommended the NTRA take a closer look at the IBM deal and not compete with its members through its subsidiaries. When asked if the advisory committee-formed as a condition of continued membership by racing associations in the Mid-Atlantic region-was the impetus for the changes, Smith said the plan to rework the IBM deal was in motion before the report was issued.

In other technological matters, Smith said he has proposed the industry work closely with TV Guide Inc., the parent company of the TV Games Network, to take advantage of what the company has to offer in terms of interactive program guides and national saturation. He mentioned picking up on how FOX has a national network and local or regional affiliates, and envisions a primary TVG network with regional or state affiliates.

Smith said he has discussed the idea with TVG officials. He said it's way too soon to consider how or if other account wagering providers could be included.

The Friday meeting, held at the Keeneland sale pavilion, was held to bring NTRA members up to speed on various projects as the Nov. 10 deadline for membership renewals approaches. The Friday session was attended by about 60 people, not as many as on Thursday, the first day of the two-day meeting.