January 12, 2007 1:00 PM PST

BlackBerry betting to catch on in a New York minute?

Forget hanging out in off-track betting parlors. New Yorkers will soon be allowed to make their horse-racing bets online or via cell phone.

Starting January 22, New York plans to allow people to place bets on horse racing via the Internet or other electronic platforms, including cell phones, thanks to a new regulation adopted by the New York State Racing and Wagering Board. A company called Sona Mobile plans to sell racetrack software that will make it easier for people to make bets from their mobile handsets.

Shawn Krelloff, chief executive of Sona, believes the regulations, coupled with his company's software, could breathe new life into the New York horse-racing industry.

"Generally, horse racing appeals to an older, male demographic," he said. "They're the guys who go to the track or hang out in OTB (off-track betting) parlors. Placing wagers from a cell phone appeals to a younger generation. And that could incrementally grow revenue for the industry."

Sona has already struck a deal with the New York Racing Association, the owner and operator of the three largest racetracks in New York. Initially, the deal calls for Sona to help build NYRA's Web site for online betting. The company also hopes to sell NYRA its mobile software to enable wagers from cell phones.

Gambling is highly regulated in the United States, with most forms of off-site wagering banned in every state, except Nevada. The only off-site betting that is allowed in roughly 35 states is on horse or dog racing. In some states like New York, off-track betting parlors have been set up to take bets. And people are able to call in bets from a telephone.

But up until the new regulation takes effect, placing bets via the Internet has been illegal in New York. And even though people could call in bets using a cell phone, they couldn't use the mobile Internet.

That will soon change. Sona has developed secure software that racetracks use to allow people to make bets from their cell phones. The way it works is that users download a thin-client application on their handsets from the track's mobile Web site. Operating systems supported include Research In Motion's BlackBerry and Microsoft's Windows Mobile.

Once the client is on the phone, users click a button to launch the application that connects the cell phone over their carrier's cellular data network directly to the racetrack's Web site. Once connected, they can sign up for real-time alerts or view video clips of certain races. They also make bets over the air using credit cards and other forms of secure payment.

While the application will likely be free to download, racetracks may charge extra fees for the live alerts or videos, Krelloff said. And consumers will also have to pay data fees or airtime fees associated with their service plan from their mobile operator.

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