Computer gaming machines debuting
Sweepstakes events may again lure horse races, McGregor says
Sunday, November 20, 2005
WILLIAM C. SINGLETON III
News staff writer
The Birmingham Race Course will begin sweepstakes gaming Dec. 15, and if that is profitable, the return of horse racing could be next.
The first and second floors of the track are being renovated for 50 to 80 computers and 1,100 electronic devices to determine sweepstakes cash prizes. The equipment is scheduled to arrive Nov. 28.
A "dress rehearsal" is set for Dec. 13, according to the Birmingham Racing Commission. The track will be open for computer gaming 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Currently, pari-mutuel wagering at the race track is limited to certain hours and is prohibited on Sundays.
"We will know within 90 days how successful this will be," said Race Course owner Milton McGregor. "If it's successful as I hope it will be, I will bring back live thoroughbred and live quarter horse racing."
The last live horse racing at the track was 10 years ago, though greyhounds still run there and patrons can bet on horse and dog races via simulcast from tracks around the nation.
The renovated first floor of the track will "have the appearance of a Vegas-style casino floor," said William "Kip" Keefer, executive secretary for the Racing Commission.
Sweepstakes gaming involves players buying time on computer terminals with high-speed Internet access. Players then receive cards that they will insert in an electronic reader, which will let them know if they've won a cash prize.
The Race Course will pay out cash prizes ranging from $1 to several thousand dollars, said McGregor.
The Race Course is calling its computer gaming a "Promotional Sweepstakes," though some lawmakers consider it a form of slot machine gambling, which is illegal in Alabama.
Attorney General Troy King has neither approved nor disapproved of McGregor's plan.
Suzanne Webb, an attorney general's office spokeswoman, said the office is not ready to make a comment because the Race Course's new operation has not begun. "We will look at this gaming like we do all forms of gaming," she said.
McGregor said his venture violates no laws.
The Racing Commission approved the computer sweepstakes games in August, contingent on the games complying with Alabama law.
The rules and regulations for the sweepstakes are being written to fit with Alabama law, said Michael Kendrick, chairman of the Racing Commission.
McGregor has spent nearly $4 million to renovate the race track to upgrade its existing offerings and prepare it for promotional sweepstakes games, he said.
The Race Course has run radio and newspaper ads to draw nearly 400 new workers for the track's new venture, McGregor said.
Kendrick said the track's computer sweepstakes setup will be the first of its kind in the nation, and others will likely monitor it to see if it is successful.
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