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Snowden and AmTote's brave new era GTECH head to address racing side of business


To a generation of Maryland horseplayers, Guy Snowden is known as the owner of some fast racehorses, usually precocious 2-year-olds, trained locally by John Salzman.

For more than a decade, Snowden has been a horse owner, running about 100 thoroughbreds, principally at the Maryland tracks. Departing Smoke. Departing Cloud. Ducere. They have all been runners carrying Snowden's silks in races ranging from prestigious stakes events to claimers.

"You're Guy B. Snowden?" a patron in a Washington bar once asked him, referring to the way Snowden's name is printed on Laurel Race Course programs.

But Snowden, 47, also is chairman and chief executive officer of GTECH Corp., the world's largest supplier of computerized lottery equipment, based in West Greenwich, R.I. And when he addresses conventioneers this morning at the annual conference of AmTote International, at the Stouffer Harborplace Hotel, he will be doing so as a major new player on the national horse racing scene.

About three months ago, GTECH acquired AmTote International, one of the country's two largest suppliers of pari-mutuel equipment to racetracks. This will be the first AmTote convention under GTECH's corporate umbrella.

Now that two conflicting elements in the gaming world -- horse racing and lotteries -- are under the control of one corporation, many people in the racing world are more than a little uncomfortable.

Racing traditionalists blame the decline in handle and attendance at the nation's tracks partly on the increased competition from lotteries and games such as keno. Some of the questions they raise include:

* How will Snowden address the conflict between the tracks and the lotteries?

* Can the lottery help racing?

* And what are Snowden's plans for AmTote, the Hunt Valley-based company that is now owned by a New England outfit? Will AmTote stay in Baltimore?

The acquisition of AmTote, Snowden said, is "one that I had considered for a long time. Technologically, lotteries and racing are closely related. For me, naturally, it combines my avocation, which is owning and breeding horses, and understanding the technology.

"But it's difficult to start a pari-mutuel company from zero. For one thing, it takes a long time and it's a market that is not growing significantly. GTECH is a company committed to growth. But we looked [at acquiring] AmTote several times. The price was always too high. As things unraveled with the company -- they seemed to lose their focus -- the price became reasonable."

Snowden said he plans to forge a partnership between AmTote and owners of the tracks that the company serves.

"Just because racing is in decline doesn't say that the product is finished," Snowden said. "It needs renovation. It needs the support of technology, and we're going to be part of its renaissance."

He said the renewed growth can parallel the growth of lotteries, which mirrored the rise of GTECH. Snowden worked as a systems analyst for IBM, then started GTECH with partner Victor Markowicz after determining that state lottery systems need specialized equipment and that the gambling market would grow.

"It was the first, and best, vision I ever had," Snowden said.

Racing's appeal, Snowden said, is widespread, enthusiastic and international. He recently named Michael Piggott, an Australian, to head AmTote, because of the enormous growth the sport has experienced in Australia.

"From experience, I know racing is a terrific product," Snowden said. "I've seen people that knew nothing about racing become interested and then totally infected by it. But instead of being on the defensive, racing has got to focus on the offensive. It has to pinpoint its appeal and then present it properly to the public.

"We are part of that distribution system. We've got the resources to help racing not only technologically, but also from a marketing viewpoint. But racing has to embrace us, not oppose us. It will take science and common sense, but racing can grow. There will be some consolidation. But there will also be some new tracks. What the sport has to do is offer more and better racing."

Simulcasting, Snowden added, is here to stay. "There is no reversing it. It's a trend I've observed for a dozen years. The current generation is used to being entertained by TV, and usually by remote control. They want constant action and are not satisfied with just one race every 25 minutes."

Snowden doesn't see a conflict in operating a company that services lotteries as well as horse racing.

"They are two entirely different forms of gambling," he said. "I don't see lotteries as entertainment. A person buys a ticket and hopes Lady Luck will change his life. He plays to win the big prize. But he doesn't jump up and down in front of a television screen. Racing is different. It's involvement. It's excitement."

He added that little changes, such as merely printing a horse's name in addition to its program number on a mutuel ticket, can help.

"We need to attract new fans. But when they get to a track, they just see a number on a ticket. But when the race is run, they hear the horse's name."

He envisions a weekly lottery where tickets on a Saturday feature race can be sold at lottery terminals and then fans can watch the race on television.

As for AmTote's future in Baltimore, Snowden said the lease on the building in Hunt Valley is up in six months. "We're looking to stay in Maryland," he said, but added the company's location will probably be "moved closer to the airport [BWI]."

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