Nearly six months after starting the process to build the premiere U.K. horse betting site on the Internet, AtTheRaces.com has received the green light by the U.K. Tote to go ahead with a launch.
The site, which is owned in part by BSkyB, Channel 4 and Arena Leisure, will make its official debut on Dec. 11.
"There are a lot of betting Web sites out there, but we feel the interactive television channel will really put us in new territory."
The site was due to launch in September, but that was pushed back after the system, which was developed by Arena Leisure, underwent a battery of stringent tests by the Tote. Arena was also unable to get the URL it originally wanted, Go Racing, because two different racing companies had already taken it.
The site had to pass the Tote's extensive testing and auditing procedures to get the go-ahead to offer pool betting.
The launch of the site is much anticipated. The site will include broadcast-quality pictures, live audio and instant gaming on racing from courses including Aintree, Cheltenham and Ascot.
The group says that the new site is really just the beginning of a much larger betting picture. The consortium, which won the rights in June to offer online gaming and televise horse racing from 49 of the England's 59 tracks, will launch a live interactive digital television channel, which will be initially available on Sky Digital, in May 2002.
"The site is certainly the foundation for much bigger things to come. It is a stepping stone for the Web site," AtTheRaces public relations officer Hannah Walker said. "There are a lot of betting Web sites out there, but we feel the interactive television channel will really put us in new territory."
Walker said the channel will start with 14 hours of programming a day but sees it growing to a 24-hour channel with live races from tracks all over the world.
"This is something that you have to take the right steps in," she said. "It is a long process, but everyone involved in the ownership group is an expert in their field. Arena Leisure is an expert in developing betting sites, Channel 4 is an expert in broadcasting horse races end and, of course, BSkyB is the leading expert when it comes to interactive television."
A telephone betting service is also being developed by Arena Leisure to complement the online and the television betting services.
Last week the group announced a two-year deal with BBC Worldwide for the BBC's commercial arm to handle the worldwide sports distribution rights for broadcasting from its courses. Under the agreement AtTheRaces will retain the international TV betting rights.
Until the launch of the interactive TV channel the site will compete in an ever-growing sector of horseracing operations.
Walker said AtTheRaces will have an edge of existing sites despite the fact that the market is getting saturated. "No one else will have that video and audio footage from those 49 tracks. No one else will have that," she said. "That is exclusive to us."
If that's not enough the company has inked an endorsement deal from one of England's most famous athletes. British footballer Steve McManaman, who also owns four racehorses, is helping spread the word about the site.
"He is going to be able to follow his horses when he is aboard," Walker said. "He is very excited about it and has a great love for the sport. He went out and bought a lap top just so he could access the site. We introduced the site to him and he was quit impressed by it."
Walker said no target numbers are being released as to how many subscribers or how much handle the new service hopes to generate through the Web site.
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