Can Big Fix happen here?

Nov 5, 2002 5:19 AM

   In light of last week’s massive Pick Six scam, local players are concerned whether the same thing can happen in Nevada race books.

   Last week it was revealed that an insider may have tampered with pari-mutuel equipment and manipulated the results of the Breeders Cup Pick Six. The problem occurred because of a security gap in the tote system involving Pick Six and other multi-race wagers, experts said.

   One high stakes player, Ernie Dahlman, who reportedly bets millions of dollars in Las Vegas on the horses, said he’s “not so sure” the same thing can’t happen in Nevada.

   “Heck, there are people out there that can hack into the Pentagon’s computer,” Dahlman told the New York Times.

   In Nevada, pari-mutuel bets from race books are sent to and processed by Las Vegas Dissemination Company (LDC), which also serves as the hub for Foxwoods and other casinos.

   While the same type of tampering with bets is possible in Nevada, it is highly unlikely, according to LDC president John Sullivan.

   “It’s protocol that the Pick Six bets are handled the same way everywhere in the country,” Sullivan told GamingToday. “But the tampering (with the Breeders Cup Pick Six) occurred inside the hub facility in sync with the OTB facility and in sync with the bettor.”

   Sullivan said LDC pari-mutuel equipment is not subject to remote access, and that any tampering would have to occur “in the office, live and in front of other employees.”

   “That’s not likely to happen,” Sullivan said.

   Sullivan said Nevada regulators were in LDC offices last week to see whether security was sufficient to prevent such tampering of bet information.

   “They wanted to see if the system needed more safeguards,” Sullivan said.

   Nevada regulators were unavailable for comment at press time on Monday.

   Sullivan said that LDC currently uses Autotote equipment, but since 1995 it has worked independently of the Scientific Games subsidiary. He added that any proposed changes, such as updating existing equipment, would have to be addressed, if and when they are required to occur.

   Since the revelation of the Pick Six betting scam, a task force made up of horse race and pari-mutuel leaders has been formed in order to assess what security measures, if any, would reduce the risk of tote fraud in the future.

   So far, the only announced changes have been background checks on all on-site tote workers, as well as racetrack employees with access to tote facilities.

   But it’s a “foregone conclusion” that that the task force will make some kind of recommendation requiring all Pick Six betting information to be transmitted to the host track before the start of the first leg of the bet, as it is done with other bets, according to Lorne Weil, chairman and CEO of Scientific Games, the parent company of Autotote.

   In a conference call last Thursday, Weil said the current practice of transmitting the betting amounts but the not the actual horses was “an accident waiting to happen.”

   Weil added that the “rogue software engineer” who was fired from Autotote last week was able to “exploit the only weak link we’ve seen in the system so far,” and that it was “impossible” for hackers to duplicate the feat from their home or other remote location.

   Weil suggested that the cost to upgrade communications and pari-mutuel equipment would be “relatively minor,” and offered that the “industry, in effect” could absorb the added costs.

   After discovering that its equipment was susceptible to tampering, Weil said Scientific Games has increased by 50 times its security involving “anything to do with the Pick Six equipment,” and said he expected other tote companies to have done the same.