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AT&T cable bets on TVG horse racing

Focus on three states that allow cable subscribers to make bets

NEW YORK — Laying down horse-race bets with the touch of a TV keypad from your living room moved a step closer to reality with a deal between AT&T’s cable systems and the TV Games Network (TVG).

As a result of the agreement, TVG, jointly owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. and John Malone’s Liberty Media, will be able to make the sales pitches to individual AT&T cable systems — which reach more than 10 million subscribers, second only to Time Warner Cable — and try to get them to carry the network.

TVG is a 24-hour, advertiser-supported cable web featuring live coverage of horse races from dozens of racetracks throughout the country, supplemented by “expert commentary, tutorials and behind-the-scenes features on the horses and celebrities of racing.” Fox Sports will help produce some of this ancillary programming.

Spokespeople for AT&T and TVG declined to discuss the financial arrangements. One source said the cable systems will pay nominal amounts to TVG in license fees. Instead, TVG will generate most of its revenue by siphoning off a percentage of the wagers that cable subscribers make on the various races. Each cable system will also pocket some of the money ponied up by subscriber/bettors in the system’s geographical area.

TVG will focus on AT&T cable systems in the three states that allow cable subscribers to make bets: Kentucky, Maryland and Oregon, according to a spokesman, who says the National Thoroughbred Racing Assn. is lobbying all the other states to make wagering over cable TV just as common as putting down a bet at the track.

Right now, cable subscribers will have to call in their bets by telephone or personal computer. But the TVG spokesman says once digital set-top boxes are installed in subscribers’ homes, the home gambler clutching a remote won’t have to get out of his or her Barcalounger.

The spokesman said TVG will put in place a variety of fail-safe mechanisms to guard against anybody’s gambling away the rent money or the food budget on a slow-footed steed.