Xpressbet Handle Falls 18% In California

Magna Entertainment Corp. may have some explaining to do at this month's California Horse Racing Board meeting as handle for its account-wagering service, Xpressbet, suffered an 18.4% decline among California residents during the year's first two months.

On the CHRB's agenda for its March 25 meeting is a discussion of Xpressbet's handle figures. It was added after a Pari-Mutuel Committee meeting last month provided stinging criticism of Magna's account wagering policies from both regulators and racing officials. Many offered the opinion Magna's decision to limit account wagering providers with access to its tracks has stifled revenue for horsemen and state.

According to handle figures from Chrims Inc., the pari-mutuel provider for the CHRB, overall account wagering by California residents was up 26.5% during the first two months of year.

Despite that fact, Magna's Xpressbet handle decreased 18.4% from $12.76 million to $10.42 million. TV Games, which does not offer wagering on Magna-owned winter tracks Gulfstream Park and Santa Anita Park, saw its handle increase 91% to $13.63 million from $7.1 million.

Youbet, the only other licensed account wagering provider in the state, handled $15.46 million, an increase of 36.3% from $11.34 million the previous year.

Total account wagering handle by California residents was $39.52 million, up from $31.24 million.

Magna's decision to restrict account wagering access of its tracks to Xpressbet was described as "malarkey" by Thoroughbred Owners of California president John Van de Kamp during last month's committee meeting. Earlier, pressure from the TOC sparked a deal that allows Youbet to accept wagers from California residents on Santa Anita and Golden Gate.

Van de Kamp and others hinted Xpressbet could be in trouble of losing its account-wagering license when it comes up for renewal in December if the business trends continue.

A portion of Xpressbet's losses could be linked to a boycott of Magna spurred by its account wagering restrictions. Horseplayer Richard Bauer launched www.boycottmagna.com in response and through March 3, more than 590 people had signed the boycott roster.

A phone call to Magna was referred to chief executive officer Jim McAlpine, who was not immediately available for comment.

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