by | 11.17.2010 | 12:46am
The fourth race at Philadelphia Park June 28 was just a run-of-the-mill claiming contest until the Scientific Games totalizator system malfunctioned shortly after Magical American crossed the finish line as the winner. The top three finishers (4-2-3) were put on the board, but the problems with the tote delayed Philadelphia Park from making the race official and posting the payoffs. The fifth race at the Pennsylvania track was run without betting.

A little over a thousand miles away at Tampa Bay Downs on Florida's Gulf Coast, some horseplayers became curious about what impact the tote failure had on the AmTote wagering machines there.

Lo and behold, they discovered wagers made on the winning horses in Philadelphia Park's fourth race were still being accepted. The Paulick Report has learned that players started punching out win tickets, exactas and trifectas. The delay, from the time the Philadelphia Park race was run until someone in the Tampa Bay mutuels department realized there was a problem, was about 10 minutes, at which time betting was halted. It was nearly 15 minutes from the time the race was run until the Florida track received a stop betting order from Scientific Games (formerly Autotote).

In the meantime, a considerable amount of money was bet on what can only be described as a horseplayer's dream: a “sure thing.” It was free money.

One player bet $1,000 on his own: $500 to win and a $500 exacta. He got a tidy return of $8,100 when the system was up and running later that afternoon. In all, Tampa Bay took in $2,000 in wagers on the race and paid out more than $13,000 to the lucky (if somewhat dishonest) fans.

The past-post wagers went into the betting pools at Philadelphia Park, shortening payoffs for those who picked the winning combinations honestly. Though the size of the pools for the race were not unusually large, it appears the winner's odds were driven down by the past-post bets.

One bet that would not be affected was the daily double on races three and four, which paid $32.40 after a 7-10 odds-on favorite won the third race. (Bets on the daily double would have been made prior to the third race.) That payoff suggests Magical American should have gone off at odds of about 8-1. But when the payoffs were posted, Magical American paid only $9.20 on a $2 win bet.

“We are aware of the situation,” Curtis Linnell, director of wagering analysis for the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau, told the Paulick Report. “It looks like it may have been isolated to Tampa. It didn't look like it was widespread.”

Linnell said he could not comment further because the circumstances are under review.

The stop betting signal is part of the standard protocol established for pari-mutuel wagering, according to Linnell. The signal goes from the host track to other hubs or tote systems handling wagers going into the host track pool. He said a “break” in the communications signals could prevent the stop betting signal from going out.

“That situation can happen, and in very isolated situations it has,” Linnell said.

Joe Wilson, the chief operating officer of Philadelphia Park, did not return phone calls to the Paulick Report seeking comment. A spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission said the matter is being investigated.

This issue begs the question of who is minding the tote, a patchwork, less-than-state-of-the-art wagering network that handles the approximate $15-billion in bets each year and flows through racetracks, hubs, guest hubs, off-track betting sites, account wagering systems, and off-shore rebate shops?

State racing commissions look into these matters, but in this case the wagers were made across state lines. The TRPB has an investigative branch, but it is more concerned with tracking wagering patterns that could suggest race-fixing by racing participants. The National Thoroughbred Racing Association did have its focus on wagering integrity, particularly after the Breeders' Cup Pick Six scandal of 2002. Plans were announced by the NTRA to staff an Office of Wagering Integrity, but those plans went by the wayside when the industry could not reach a consensus on what to do.

Alex Waldrop, the current head of the NTRA, said during a recent Congressional hearing that racing is not a rudderless ship. But there doesn't appear to be anyone with his hands on the wheel of the most important boat in the racing industry's fleet – the tote system.

By Ray Paulick

Copyright ©2008, The Paulick Report

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