KENTUCKY RACING: AN INTEGRITY TASK FARCE?

by | 11.17.2010 | 12:46am

By Ray Paulick

People are making and cancelling bets on horses after races have begun. Let me repeat that: PEOPLE ARE MAKING AND CANCELLING BETS ON HORSES AFTER RACES HAVE BEGUN. Does anyone have a problem with that?

Apparently, several members appointed to a subcommittee on integrity that is part of a Task Force on the Future of Horse Racing in Kentucky aren't all that concerned about the issue. The integrity subcommittee couldn't even muster a quorum when three of its six voting members failed to show up for the panel's first meeting at the offices of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission on Monday afternoon.

At the outset of the meeting, subcommittee chairman Ned Bonnie (a member of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission) said the panel was poised to take action on integrity issues until he was reminded by the commission's executive director, Lisa Underwood, that a quorum wasn't present.

Bonnie was joined by subcommittee members Robert Beck Jr. (an attorney and chairman of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission) and Robert Vance, the secretary of Kentucky's Environmental and Public Protection Cabinet. But missing were racing commission vice-chairman Tracy Farmer (chairman of the Task Force on the Future of Horse Racing and a Thoroughbred owner and breeder), Louisville real estate developer Brian Lavin and Paducah, Ky., attorney Duncan Pitchford.

It's no wonder that some are referring to this entire exercise proposed by Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear as a “task farce.”

Bonnie was disappointed at the no-shows, to be sure, but how do you think horseplayers feel? They are the ones, after all, whose confidence has been eroded by an archaic totalizator system with flaws that are being exploited by techno-savvy thieves; off-shore rebate shops that are virtually unregulated; a patchwork network of simulcast sites that answer to 38 different regulatory bodies; and ineffective rules, many of which were written for the good old days when the only bets made took place on track with a live teller.

For anyone not paying attention, the volume of pari-mutuel handle on horse racing is down this year by roughly 5%. It's not just a Kentucky problem. By year's end, total pari-mutuel handle in the United States may very well dip below $14 billion for the first time since 1999. That's 10 years of stagnation.

We can blame the economy or competition from other forms of entertainment and gambling. Or we can ask our customers, which the National Thoroughbred Racing Association recently did, as to why they are not pushing as many dollars into the pari-mutuel pools as they used to. According to Keith Chamblin, the NTRA executive who outlined the consumer research at an industry conference, the attitudes of racing's best customers can be summed up in five words: “Our core fans are pissed.”

Consumers are pissed because they feel cheaters continue to win races at an alarming rate by using performance enhancing drugs. They are convinced people are making or cancelling bets after races begin. And they see racing commissions and task forces and blue ribbon panels as pointless exercises conducted by mindless political appointees who are too out of tune to understand the problems or too apathetic to fix them.

That may or may not be the case with Kentucky's Task Force and its various subcommittees. It should be noted that a majority of the ex officio non-voting members of the integrity subcommittee were on hand, including owner-breeder Gary Biszantz, professional horseplayer Mike Maloney and businessman Frank Kling, who spent a great deal of time and effort working on wagering integrity issues as a member of the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority, a panel dissolved by Beshear earlier this year and replaced with the current racing commission. All three spoke up in ways that indicate they understand the problems and sense the urgency in addressing them.

But the ex officio members can't vote on any action items addressed by the integrity subcommittee. That's up to the six voting members to do – if and when they show up for a meeting.

In the meantime, the entire Task Force should remember those five chilling words repeated by Chamblin: “Our core fans are pissed.”

The ball is in the court of the Kentucky Task Force and regulators, track operators, account wagering companies and others throughout this country.

What are they going to do address the concerns of racing's best customers?

Copyright © 2008, The Paulick Report

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