High-tech takes its toll
on race, sports contests

Jan 6, 2004 5:18 AM

The high tech age is a wonderful thing, isn’t it? After all, where would we be without computers, wireless phones, electronic fuel injection, Cuisinart, automatic car navigators, garage door openers, remote controls and everything else conceived by a hapless engineer.

The problem, it seems, is we’ve become slaves to our gadgetry. We’ve lost the ability to add a column of numbers when we balance our checkbook because we can’t think without a calculator. Or we need an electronic technician to hook up the DVD player because our TV set doesn’t have the proper video/audio input jacks.

Now it appears that, as of January 21, most local horse contests will be eliminated, all because of the influence of the electronic age. In our page 1 story, we’re reporting that race and sports contests are banned in Nevada if they’re conducted by handwritten entries.

This must have been a boring year in the race and sports business because there were no scandals or major foul-ups.

Nevertheless, regulators had to earn their money so they have decided that these contests, most of which cost only $10 bucks to enter, were vulnerable to some sort of tampering or wrongdoing.

Thus, to keep my $10 bucks safe, they will soon require sports books to spend millions altering their system, or dropping the contests altogether.

The reality has been that these contests are run so well (even with primitive hand-written entries!) that we’ve never had a problem. Nevertheless, we horse players won’t be able to participate any longer, just because they’re not mystically wed to the almighty computer.

It probably wasn’t an easy task for the race and sports directors to get their bosses to pony up the money to put these contests together, and now they’re slapped in the face.

Unfortunately, this looks like another nail in the coffin for the ailing race book business in Nevada.

It’s interesting to note that, while Nevada regulators are requiring these contests to be computerized, the biggest scandal in racing history — the bogus Breeders’ Cup pick six ticket from 2002 — was generated by computer hackers!

Two of the most popular contests in Las Vegas are the ones at Station Casinos and the Mandalay Bay properties.

Station puts up $5,000 of its own money each week and awards that money plus all the entry fees to the players. These contests are run by the most professional people in the business and are scrutinized by not only the people running the contest, but also by the players. It takes several days for a contest to be official, so if anyone had a gripe or a mistake was made, there would be time for corrections.

These contests are good for the books and the players. I know from my own experience that I go to race books on several occasions to play a contest and end up making other bets. I may even see a line on a game that I may have missed and make a sports bet.

It’s ironic that you can go into every part of the casino and wager thousands of dollars on craps, roulette, blackjack, poker, bingo and every other game, which requires the expertise of real live human beings.

What’s next? Will they require a computer to calculate the blackjack payoff? Will they do away with the craps table’s boxman, who must quickly and accurately calculate — in his head! — the payoff for a myriad of complicated bets?

Are we about to enter a Brave New World of casinos, in which robots or androids are dealing the games, just to ensure there is no margin for human error?

I hope not. I happen to like human beings. I like to get out and mingle with the masses. I like being able to put my trust in someone who could possibly be honest.

I guess it all goes back to the saying, "Locks were made for honest people." Maybe we need locks. But that doesn’t mean we need to take refuge from the human race. After all, take away humanity, and there’s very little left.