EchoStar rolls the dice with gambling

Interactive horseracing rolled out to 10 mil

NEW YORK — The era of in-home wagering has finally arrived.

In a deal between EchoStar and the smallish horseracing outlet TVG Network, betting via a remote control is a reality starting today.

EchoStar has rolled out an interactive-horseracing channel operated by TVG to 10 million of its 11 million subscribers in a move that everyone –from competitor Rupert Murdoch to the average gambler — has been waiting to see.

“This could be the forerunner of turning the TV-viewing experience from a passive to an active experience,” said Scott Higgins, director of interactive programming for EchoStar’s Dish Network.

John Hindman, senior veep of TVG, said “I look on (this) as the first interactive platform that allows the viewer not only to place bets with his remote but to call up all sorts of information relating to the race, from news updates to track results to the latest odds.”

The revolution will start slowly at first, as only 12 states allow wagering from the touch of a TV remote, including California, Massachusetts and Ohio. Residents of those states must establish a password-protected wagering account with the TVG net.

EchoStar has carried the 24/7 TVG Network since 1999; the channel will continue to offer about seven horseraces each hour, along with commentary and features. TVG has signed up dozens of the most popular tracks throughout the country, including Aqueduct, Belmont Park, Churchill Downs and Hollywood Park.

Track attendance has fallen drastically over the last few decades, at least in part because the tracks and the horse owners have not tried to market the sport to new generations in any serious way.

Higgins said EchoStar plans to immediately start flashing pop-up messages on Dish channel 405, which carries the regular TVG. The messages will direct viewers to switch to the interactive TVG and sample the extensive info that supplements what’s taking place onscreen. A click of the remote shrinks the picture to about a quarter of the screen; the other three-fourths provide access to an encyclopedia of information about the races, the jockeys and the horses, which subscribers can surf the way they do the Internet.

If EchoStar starts signing up new subscribers who are horseracing fans and have heard about the betting service, Hindman said cable systems, particularly in the 12 states that permit wagering from home, will begin experimenting with such interactivity. A cable system in Louisville (home wagering is allowed in Kentucky) has been testing the interactive TVG, he said.

Meanwhile, industryites are asking, Where is Murdoch? News Corp. controls EchoStar’s satellite rival DirecTV and operates Gemstar, parent of TVG. The hypercompetitive Murdoch must be slightly disheartened at the fact that EchoStar, not DirecTV, is ushering in the era of home wagering to a mass audience.

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