The race for racinos!

Dec 17, 2002 4:56 AM

   The mood at the 29th Annual Symposium on Racing, presented by the Race Track Industry Program of the University of Arizona in Tucson, was unusually subdued last week. Attendees suggested that the pari-mutuel industry was still suffering from the Breeders’ Cup Pick Six scandal.

   To begin with, fewer of racing’s elite attended the annual function. And of those who did attend, many spent less time than usual participating in the various sessions discussing problems currently facing the industry.

   Not so with the sessions addressing the move by the nation’s tracks toward the introduction of slot machines. One speaker, Ron Barbaro, who has guided tracks in Ontario, Canada, toward the installation of video lottery machines, as most track slot machines are called, predicted that nearly all tracks will come equipped with slots within five years.

   But it was wagering integrity that dominated most conversation of attendees who gathered in the halls and lounges of Loews Ventana Canyon Resort. That was expected by officials of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA), the organization, with the Breeders’ Cup, which called for an investigation into the Pick Six when the unusual betting pattern of the winning tickets came to light.

   NTRA officials explained that a wager review process has been instituted whereby the activities of all member tracks involving pick four, pick six and other similar wagers going back to the beginning of 2002, will be examined. This review was triggered by the admission by Christopher Harn, instigator of the pick six scam, that he had manipulated other tickets prior to the Breeders’ Cup debacle.

   Harn has pleaded guilty to using his position as a senior software engineer for Autotote, to generate winning tickets or to manufacture winning tickets from information regarding uncashed tickets. He implicated his Drexel University fraternity brothers — Derrick Davis and Glen DaSilva — in the scam. Both Davis and DaSilva have admitted their roles in the scheme.

   Another concern that has arisen among thoroughbred tracks is the late change in betting odds as much as 45 seconds after the race has started. This has resulted in a perception of so-called past posting, in effect making wagers after the winner seems assured.

   Failure to implement the latest in available software has been blamed for the late odds changes. Some tracks have responded by ordering that betting be stopped before the horses enter the starting gate.

   Perhaps some of the racing executives should have accompanied Jay Privman on his recent trip to the Far East. Privman, a columnist for the Daily Racing Form, covered the races at Happy Valley and Sha Tin racetracks in Hong Kong and wrote of the $130 million daily average handle at these tracks. Yet, Privman wrote, because of the sophisticated computer software in use, the track shows odds changes every 12 seconds with the final odds being shown exactly 12 seconds after the race gets underway.

   Joining the NTRA in its efforts to improve the integrity of wagering was the 2002 Committee of the Thoroughbred Racing Associations (TRA). The committee said it was recommending that tracks end the practice of permitting ticket sellers to cancel pari-mutuel tickets beyond post time. Thus, the committee said, the information of cancelled tickets would not delay the reporting of mutuel information to the host track.

   The next priority of the committee will be expediting the transmission of win, place and show wager information to the wagering hubs, a re-prioritizing of data transmission that is expected to lessen delays in the posting of final odds by up to 30 seconds.

   Autotote, the country’s largest provider of betting networks, joined in by announcing it was introducing a security system to plug the gaps exposed by the recent ticket scams. The system will monitor bets placed directly through mutuel machines connected to the tote system at the tracks.

   Other tote system operators indicated they also are reviewing their procedures to see where security systems could be introduced.

   RTIP director Doug Reed scheduled a special session so that attendees could directly question the three major totalizator system operators. However, the session was canceled when representatives of Autotote, United Tote and American Tote declined to participate.