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Horseplayers fuming over Pick Six fix!

Nov 5, 2002 6:54 AM

   Horseplayers are angry and they pledge they won’t take it anymore.

   The furor is over the suspected fraudulent Breeder’s Cup Pick Six wager that appears to have been altered in order to make an unusual wager the only winning ticket worth in excess of $3 million.

   The bet was made by Derrick Davis from his home in Baltimore, Md., through his telephone account with the Catskills Off-Track Betting system. The bet allegedly singled the first four winners with all the horses running in the last two races. Unfortunately, Catskills does not have a system of recording the wagers when they are made.

   Unknown to most players was the method used by racetracks and their totalizator (wagering recording system) provider in recording the bet. The money bet was recorded immediately but the horses selected were not transmitted to the host racetrack until after the first four races were run.

   What a window of opportunity for manipulation!

   Autotote, the totalizator provider to Catskills OTB, announced through the head of its parent company, Scientific Games Corp. (SGMS), Lorne Weil, that through an internal security system, the company had identified a “rogue software engineer,” Christopher Harn of Newark, Del., “who had the ability to alter the ticket.” Harn was fired.

    Weil didn’t say they had evidence Harn had altered the ticket and as of Monday, no charges had been filed against either Davis or Harn. Yet, the two were linked as fraternity brothers while attending Drexell University in the middle-90’s.

   While the N.Y. Racing and Wagering Board announced an immediate investigation, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA) and the Breeders’ Cup, said a Task Force had been formed to develop new safety procedures while tracks controlled by Churchill Downs, Magna Entertainment and the N.Y. Racing Association said they were putting in place new security measures in their tote rooms to insure integrity.

   An internal audit was initiated in New York to determine whether previous Pick Six payouts may have resulted from altered ticket selections.

   Meanwhile, industry spokesmen castigated racetrack operators for failing to institute procedures months ago to insure that all wagers were legitimately recorded.

   Steven Crist, publisher of the Daily Racing Form, recalled an incident back in 1995 when a Pick Six appeared suspicious. He said he called it to the attention officials of the N.Y. Racing Association (NYRA), his employer at the time. Following an investigation, he said, officials called the Pick Six results legitimate, saying the winning bettor was a long-standing customer who invested a lot and got lucky when everything broke his way.

   Later, Crist said, one of the officials who began to reminisce about the incident, reversed his feelings, suggesting that “I’m pretty sure that we got stung a few times a few years back. We found out that one of the upstate OTBs was sending in tickets after four legs had already been run, singling the first four winners. We closed the loophole they were using but the whole system still makes me nervous.”

   Seven years later, a similar loophole may have caused the biggest scandal the industry has had to deal with in several decades.

   For the time being, the winning Pick Six pool has frozen by the Illinois Racing Board, although holders of tickets with five winners have been paid a consolation prize of $4,626. Although a final decision hasn’t yet been reached, some officials have indicated that once the winning ticket has been officially declared fraudulent, then the consolation prize receivers, who are able to present their W2G federal tax form as proof of having held such a ticket, will be paid an additional $38,000 plus.

   But, what if investigators fail to come up with positive proof of ticket manipulation?

   “We’ll really have to give that a lot more thought,” replied a state official.