AmericaTab Chief: 'Fragmented Industry' Must Change

The president of a growing account wagering service said handle declines at major winter meets aren't good for racing, and he suggested it's time for a "fragmented industry" to move forward in the best interests of its customers, racetracks, and horsemen.

In a March 6 letter to account-holders, AmericaTab chief Charlie Ruma, also majority owner of Beulah Park in Ohio, said business through the wagering service was up 45.8% in January and 28.4% in February even though it had no access to signals from racetracks owned by Magna Entertainment Corp. It also added more than 1,000 new accounts in the last two months, Ruma said.

MEC pulled its signals from account wagering providers in late 2003 in an attempt to funnel business to its XpressBet account betting service. In California alone, XpressBet handle was down 18.4% in the first two months of 2004 even though overall handle from account wagering companies was up 26.5% the first two months of the year compared with the same period in 2003.

MEC president Jim McAlpine said in early February that "long-term account wagering is a critical piece of our business." He said MEC was tinkering with its business model in an attempt to ensure fair pricing and more revenue for tracks and horsemen.

Ruma said he doesn't expect to have an agreement with MEC any time soon. MEC's decision to pull signals from other account wagering services led some players to boycott MEC tracks.

"Although we have continued to be successful in growing our business, I am dismayed about the state of the industry," Ruma said in his letter. "The handle numbers that have been reported by Magna on Santa Anita and Gulfstream have shown a substantial decline. No matter how competitive we are at AmericaTab, we still understand that the industry as a whole needs to succeed in order for us to survive on the long term.

"To have two major American racetracks experiencing a decline in business is not good for the industry. To have a significant number of horseplayers committed to a boycott is not good for the industry. It is time for us to put past practices behind us. Horsemen have put a considerable amount of investment in bringing top quality horses to top quality racetracks. We all should be watching, wagering, and participating in the programs of each racetrack without interferences.

"At some point in time this industry will find a way to come together for the benefit of the horseplayer. We will find a way to permit you to wager across the board on all tracks with one account. In deep respect for our horseplayers and as a racetrack owner, I apologize on behalf of this fragmented racing industry."

During the joint meeting of the Thoroughbred Racing Associations and Harness Tracks of America March 4-5 in Fort Myers, Fla., Mike Veitch, chief marketing officer for Youbet.com, said business is better without the MEC tracks, and that customers have shown a preference for Internet sites over content.

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