MJC gets permission to pull signal from rival

Judge blocks injunction, costing TVG access to feed

Horse Racing

February 14, 2004|By Ed Waldman | Ed Waldman,SUN STAFF

A federal judge yesterday cleared the way for the owners of Laurel Park and Pimlico to stop supplying their TV signal and wagering information to the TVG Network, and the Maryland Jockey Club will have an announcement by Monday as to when that will happen.

U.S. District Judge William M. Nickerson ruled yesterday at a preliminary injunction hearing that ODS Technologies, a Los Angeles-based subsidiary of Gemstar-TV Guide International Inc., did not show that it would be irreparably harmed if it lost the signal from Maryland's thoroughbred racetracks.

"In my view, the evidence is simply woefully deficient as it relates to irreparable harm ... and does not support the extraordinary relief of a preliminary injunction," Judge Nickerson said.

MJC attorney James E. Gray said that as of yesterday afternoon, the tracks' officials had not decided when they would remove the signal.

"We are entitled to turn the signal off, and we intend to do it," Gray said. "But we want to do it in a fashion that minimizes the inconvenience to racing fans."

TVG has nearly 3,200 account holders in Maryland.

D. Christopher Ohly, who represented ODS, declined to comment on Judge Nickerson's ruling. He said that no decision on an appeal had been made.

MJC president Joe De Francis did not return a phone call seeking comment.

In his final argument, Ohly had tried to convince Judge Nickerson that ODS would suffer irreparable harm if the tracks' signal was withheld.

When the judge asked him how long it would be before ODS was harmed, Ohly answered: "Tomorrow. The same day this act goes into effect is the same day we start to lose goodwill. That loss of content cannot be quantified, and that is the essence of irreparable harm."

But the judge sided with the MJC and Gray, who argued, "the loss of content is not harm ... What Mr. Ohly argued is pure contract damages that are easily calculated."

In July, the jockey club filed suit against ODS to try to end its exclusive agreement, signed in 1997, to conduct account wagering on races from Pimlico and Laurel.

Magna Entertainment Corp., which bought a majority interest in the Maryland Jockey Club in November 2002, has its own account wagering service, called XpressBet, and its own TV network, HorseRacing TV.

MJC attorneys have been pushing for a trial before the May 15 Preakness Stakes, while ODS attorneys have said they will need more time to prepare.

The preliminary injunction hearing began Jan. 22 with two days of testimony from former ODS president and chief executive Mark Wilson, who resigned Feb. 4. In a cross-examination by Gray, Wilson said he "did not know" whether anything might happen as a result of ODS being denied a preliminary injunction.

Another witness in the proceeding was John Mansell, a senior analyst at Kagan World Media in Great Falls, Va., who was called as an expert by ODS. After a direct examination by ODS attorney Ohly, the MJC's Gray let Mansell off the stand without asking a question.

"While Mr. Mansell has impressive credentials, I did not find him impressive in this matter," Judge Nickerson said yesterday.

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