System Would Allow Bettors to Place Wagers Via TV
LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Racing fans could bet on their favorite horses through their television sets if the state approves a new technology being tested by a company that pioneered interactive TV.
NTN Communications Inc. of Carlsbad, Calif., is betting the cash-strapped California Legislature will approve a bill next year making the state the first to allow its proposed Cable Wagering Service.
But some racing industry officials fear the high-tech betting will hurt them by discouraging people from attending races.
And at least one religious group says it will fight what it sees as an attempt to expand gambling in California.
In 1991, Californians bet $2.9 billion on horse races, producing $138.7 million in tax revenue. NTN believes in-home wagering would increase receipts 15 percent to 20 percent within a few years, said Dan Downs, the company’s executive vice president.
″It gives the industry not only an opportunity to pick up new players, but recapture old players,″ said Downs, a former general manager of the Hollywood Park and Los Alamitos race tracks.
NTN is testing the cable-wagering game, called Triples, in about 250 households near Los Angeles.
Viewers see each horse during a pre-race program. Then they key in numbers on a remote-control device to choose their horse and the amount of the bet. Because cable wagering is not yet legal, customers bet points instead of dollars.
Should cable betting become legal, bets would be covered by money the customer deposited ahead of time into an account, Downs said.
Cable Wagering is one of a number of two-way television technologies now being explored. Another would give viewers them access to computerized libraries.
Pennsylvania and Kentucky allow a form of in-home wagering with TV viewers placing bets over the phone. But such bets account for a small fraction of the total and there are no plans to switch to the interactive TV system, officials say.
Matt Wess, general manager of the California Thoroughbred Breeders Association, says he is worried that interactive betting will erode attendance at the tracks.
″The scenario you hear about is there would be one race track somewhere and everyone would be betting on the same races,″ he said. That would mean less work for trainers, grooms and anyone else associated with the industry.
California introduced off-track betting parlors statewide in 1987, and since then revenues from on-track wagers has dropped.
However, because the tracks get a percentage of wagers placed in off-track parlors, some tracks have become more profitable, such as Del Mar north of San Diego.
Del Mar assistant general manager Craig Fravel is a cautious booster of in- home wagering.
″The ramifications of it are pretty dramatic, just in terms of expansion of the market area and your ability to send your product to more people,″ he said.
Downs said tracks could black out local cable telecasts of races just as other sporting events are blacked out for local TV audiences.
Art Croney, a lobbyist for the Sacramento-based Committee on Moral Concerns, said his group is certain to mount a campaign against California’s home wagering bill.
″For every compulsive gambler, there is a devastated life and a devastated family,″ he said. ″The last thing we need to do in California is put a greater burden on the family structure.″