Have a seat, turn on the TV and place your bets -- it's post time

Notebook

July 11, 1993|By Ross Peddicord | Ross Peddicord,Staff Writer

So, what are you going to watch?

Roseanne. Police Academy 17. Or What's Your Horse?, the new interactive TV show where you pick your ponies, bet by remote control and handicap with digital computers?

Instead of MTV, is the next generation going to watch RTV -- the Racetrack America channel where the Home Bettors Club replaces at-home shoppers?

These are a few of the thoughts passed on by panelists at last week's AmTote International convention in Baltimore, where the subject was how racing fits into new interactive technologies.

Racing purists -- the kind who still thrive on the thought that there is no race caller at Keeneland -- don't pass out.

Already a cable racing game show is being aired in California where faux at-home bettors play the races at Hollywood Park and Los Alamitos for points instead of money.

"Racing is interactive. It works well on TV," said Dan Downs, executive vice president and chief operating officer of NTN Communications.

"The technology is here. But the problem is that the product is not available. Why are the ratings for the Triple Crown and Breeders' Cup disappointing? Because people can't bet. It's got to be done so that it's simple and friendly for people sitting in their own homes to wager.

"Secret, private tests of home TV betting will be carried out in California later this year and home betting will be introduced on a small scale in 1994," Downs said. "By 1995, 1996, it could be commonplace in the home. But the question is: Will racing reach out and grab it?

"They better or they are going to be left behind. The industry has turned its back on TV before and now it's in the fight of its life. There are legislative concerns. But if people are going to be able to use at-home computers to buy lottery tickets then that opens the door for other types of gambling. Why should racing be excluded? But if racing doesn't embrace the technology, there are other products, such as the lottery and bingo, that will."

Dave Johnson, an ABC Sports announcer who recently returned from a racing holiday in Great Britain, said, "There's a lot of horse racing on TV in England. But it's being threatened by two new games that are becoming quite popular on TV. Can you guess what they are? Snooker [a form of pool] and darts."

Blackjack at 'The Downs?'

Is management at Churchill Downs going to put in a casino on the hallowed grounds of the Kentucky Derby?

They might have to.

Indiana, which borders Kentucky, recently passed a riverboat gambling bill that would allow riverboat casinos to tie up on the nTC Ohio River near downtown Louisville, home of Churchill Downs. Part of the greater Louisville metro area is in Indiana, Joe Gorajec, executive secretary of the Indiana Racing Commission, points out.

A provision in the Indiana bill stipulates that 65 cents from every $3 riverboat admission fee must go to the state's fledgling horse tracks -- Anderson Park, a harness track being built near Indianapolis, and Sagamore Park, a multi-use track that could open in 1995. It is compensation for the anticipated impact the floating casinos might have on track business.

To stay competitive, Churchill Downs is considering building an on-track casino.

"You do what you have to do to survive," said Bill Bissett, president of Delaware North, a company that owns and operates many pari-mutuel tracks.

"The days of pari-mutuel monopolies are over. Our traditional patrons are staying away because of the economy -- retirees are not getting the returns on their investments that they once did. Blue-collar workers are hurting for jobs. Military bases are closing. Our government partners are looking for other gambling games to raise needed state revenues.

"So what do we do? We take our existing product to a broader market via ITW [inter-track wagering], OTBs and interactive CableVision. And if it works in your market, you try to partner up with your competitor. If in Kentucky that means you go to casino games, then that's what you have to do."

Tracks in states bordering Maryland are looking into alternative gambling forms. Delaware Park wants slot machines. Charles Town wants video lotteries.

Ted Snell, president of Rosecroft/Delmarva, said that the mayors of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh have endorsed the concept of building casinos in their cities.

Throwing Menemsha a party

When Menemsha, the 3-year-old homebred filly owned by Mimi Voss and trained by her husband, Tom, recently won the Pearl Necklace Stakes at Laurel, her owner decided to throw a champagne party in the horse's honor.

The Vosses invited 60 of their closest friends. Reports are that the guest of honor -- Menemsha -- was paraded on the lawn attired in -- what else? -- a pearl necklace.

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