Woodbine Goes Online

14 January 2004

Canada-based Woodbine Entertainment Group this week launched an Internet service that enables gamblers to wager on races at its tracks as well as additional tracks in North America, Australia and Hong Kong. The company hopes online betting will bring in $15 million in wagers this year.

The new site, HBIBET.com, is the product of a partnership between Woodbine and Canadian e-business firm Whitecap Canada Inc, whose HorsePlayer Interactive system, powers the site. Users can place bets seconds before post time as well as create a "bet queue" through which future bets can be lined up and placed at the time of the client's choosing.

Andrew Macdonald, Woodbine's director of business development, is confident the Internet service won't just boost wagering among existing customers. It should also bring in a new clientele, he said.

"In B.C. there has been phone betting available since the mid 1990s, and that accounts for about $25 million in wagering activity every year at Hastings Park (a Woodbine property in Vancouver)," Macdonald explained.

That action is generated through only 13,000 account holders; most of them, Macdonald said, weren't going to the track before the phone system was established.

The individual tracks could benefit too. Grant Essery, vice-president and chief operating officer of Hastings Park Entertainment Inc., said he isn't worried about losing regular visitors to the track now that they can bet on the horses from remote locations.

"It is another distribution method for us to serve customers who want to wager on horse racing from their home or office," Essery explained.

Hastings has been a money loser in recent years, even with revenues boosted by phone betting. The company asked the city of Vancouver for permission to install slot machines, which track officials predict would boost revenue by $80 to $120 million. The city isn't expected to make a decision on the matter until at least early this summer.

Amid this uncertainty, Woodbine decided to move forward with the Internet project, which Macdonald referred to as "the next logical extension of our product offering."

The process was a slow one, however, as the regulatory and security issues specific to wagering and gaming made developing the HorsePlayer Interactive system a challenge. Robb Carmichael, president and CEO of Whitecap, said the software had to meet rigorous standards to get approval from the Canadian Pari-mutuel Association (CPA).

"The government had a real hand in making sure things were done properly," he said.

Officials with the CPA were unavailable for comment, but it is believed that the Woodbine site is the first Internet account wagering system that has been given approval in Canada.

Carmichael agrees that the Web site won't have a cannibalization effect on Woodbine's betting market. Internet betting, he said, is "just an alternative for your entertainment dollar."

Woodbine, which has been in expansion mode for two years, also owns and operates The Racing Network Canada, a digital channel and pay-per-view service. The company's goal, Macdonald said, is to integrate the broadcasting service and the Internet site by spring. Doing so would enable subscribers to watch live streaming video of the races on their computers.

Bettors are required to register for the Internet account in person at a track with proof of age and residency. They can then wager using credit cards or funds deposited into an account.

Nobody knows where Kevin Smith came from. He simply showed up one day and started writing articles for IGN. We liked him, so we decided to keep him. We think you'll like him too. Kevin can be reached at kevin@igamingnews.com.