Penn Stops Betting Early After Tote Glitch

Another tote communication glitch led officials at Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course to start closing pari-mutuel pools when the first horse enters the starting gate, effective June 6.

On June 5, the communication link between the Pennsylvania racetrack and its Portland, Ore., wagering hub went down. The track determined the pools closed 27 to 28 seconds after a race began, Chris McErlean, vice president of racing for track owner Penn National Gaming, said June 6.

It’s the second time in about two weeks there have been incidents of “past-posting”—pools remaining open after a race begins—at Penn National. On May 20, a tote communication failure in the second race led the track to refund about $150,000 in wagers.

McErlean said the track, after the May 20 incident, synchronized its video clock with tote company United Tote. That provided an exact start time for the June 5 race, and because of that, the entire pool wasn’t refunded.

The process, however, took all night. Race two wasn’t made official until about 11:45 p.m. EDT, well after the program had concluded.

“We notified our betting outlets to submit a ticket log report within an hour (of the second race),” McErlean said. “If they didn’t, they were backed out of the pool. (The process) was more time-consuming and logistically challenging.”

Some outlets didn’t send in the logs, and bets weren’t canceled upon request, he said. In the end, people were paid if they had winning tickets purchased before “off” time; others got refunds.

“We’re still waiting on an answer from United Tote,” McErlean said. “A, we’re embarrassed, and B, we’re frustrated. We might discuss closing our pools early, but right now I can’t tell you how early.”

Penn National officials discussed the situation June 6. In a memo to wagering outlets, track officials said: "Effective immediately and until further notice, Penn National Race Course will close wagering on all live races as soon as the first horse enters the starting gate."

McErlean acknowledged closing pools early—at zero minutes to post or when the first horse is loaded into the gate, for instance—isn’t ideal.

He did say the track “did a better job communicating with the public” throughout the evening. The card continued as usual even though the second race wasn’t made official until almost midnight.

In the May 20 incident, United Tote officials said there was a breakdown in the communications link between the track and its wagering hub.

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