Anne M. Eberhardt

Tracks to Soon Launch Added Tote Security

Tote Security System to launch next month; full implementation in early 2014.

With the added selling point of timely, detailed wagering information tracks can provide to handicappers, the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau has secured widespread support for its new Tote Security System it will launch next month with plans for full implementation early next year.

After years of industry talk about improved pari-mutuel pool security and how best to move forward, the racetracks, through the TRPB, the investigative and analytic arm of the Thoroughbred Racing Associations; unveiled plans last year to launch TSS which provides real-time monitoring of outlets participating in pools, adds features to assure proper closing of pools when the gate opens, and reduces the time of win odds updates to two seconds as the race nears.

TRA executive vice president Chris Scherf said the added information collected will not only provide tracks the ability to address regulatory concerns but allow them to provide timely and detailed odds information to handicappers and improve marketing opportunities. He said those opportunities helped encourage tracks to sign on for TSS, which will cost Thoroughbred tracks and pari-mutuel outlets that carry their signals $950 a month.

"It's been a long process and we've seen a lot of starts and stops on this issue by the industry," Scherf said, noting that it first became an important concern more than a decade ago following the Pick Six scandal at the 2002 Breeders' Cup involving a scam where a group of bettors were able to select winning horses after races in that bet sequence had concluded.

All 41 TRA member tracks have committed to TSS. Non-TRA tracks and other off-track and advance-deposit wagering outlets that wish to carry signals from those TRA tracks, also must pay the fee. Since the TRA's 41 members include most of the top handle tracks in the country, tracks and outlets who do not participate would lose many of their most attractive signals.

In a presentation Oct. 8 at the International Simulcast Conference in Lexington, TRPB director of wagering analysis J. Curtis Linnell said all four tote companies also are on board. Next month they will begin test runs with select tracks. As any problems are ironed out over a three- or four-week period, participating tracks will come on board. He said by early 2014, all 41 TRA tracks should be up and running.

In emphasizing the need for TSS, Linnell said in the past four or five weeks there has been another case of past posting where a stop-wagering command failed to be put in place. In that case, 11 wagers from the same outlet were made on a race after its conclusion. All 11 wagers were winning bets. 

The TSS system aims to ensure pools are closed when the gates open and that all stop-wagering commands are carried out at each outlet participating in the host track's pools. Even power-outage issues will be addressed as the system calls for a second source of power in such events.

Linnell said tracks continue to discover unidentified outlets participating in their pools. He said currently these discoveries are made days after the race. Identifying pool participants and associated issues of takeout rates, minimum bet values, breakage rules, cancel delays, and currency exchange issues of each of those participants is critical. TSS will readily provide that information before it is added to the host track's pools.

"Currency exchange issues are huge," Linnell said. "Every month we see problems involving currency. Boy, does that ever create problems."

Linnell said tracks are statutorily responsible to ensure betting is properly halted before the race and to identify participants in their pools before the start of the race. He said TSS allows tracks to meet those requirements. Participating tracks will be able to directly provide the TSS data to regulators.

"These are real compliance issues," Linnell said.

Linnell said at a recent day at the track, customers said they have become sadly resigned to the fact that odds shift late. He said the new system will update odds more often as it gets closer to post time, reducing from 60 seconds, to 30-, to 10-, to 2-second intervals and may help sway that important customer concern. Real-time decimal odds will be available, so patrons can see that a horse who is currently listed as "5-1" is in fact "5.9-1," for instance.

"Currently there is no confidence out there among players that they will get the odds listed at the time of their wager when the race actually pays out," Linnell said.

Because the system will allow for more efficient collection of wagering information, tracks will be able to provide current pari-mutuel odds on upcoming races. For instance, seventh race win odds would be available before the fifth race. This should be an attractive feature for multi-race bettors looking to get an idea on the odds of horses in upcoming races.

The system will launch with information on win-pool betting but it will then add exacta information, place-pool, and then trifecta information. Information on the other bets will also be added, giving tracks the ability to provide unprecedented "will-pay" type information in a timely manner for their exotic bets. Those features should prove attractive for handicappers.

The TSS will continue to allow the process of multiple hops before a wager makes it to the poolfor instance a bet made at a remote outpost in Europe may first be collected by another outlet there, before moving to an outlet in the U.S., before finally reaching the host track pool. Linnell said that concern is addressed because each collection point will be required to provide information on where its wagers are coming from.

The $950 a month pricing plan could be a problem for some of the smaller simulcast outlets. In a follow-up question after Linnell's presentation, consultant Dan Kelliher raised concerns that Greyhound and Standardbred tracks that currently carry Thoroughbred track signals may determine the $11,400 in annual fees too expensive and choose to simply drop the signals, which would reduce the number of outlets offering wagering on Thoroughbred racing. 

Fred Guzman, director of mutuels and simulcasting at Daytona Beach Kennel Club, said his track is statutorily required to carry Thoroughbred race signals. He said under that circumstance, his outlet should be considered part of a Thoroughbred racetrack outlet. The rules allow Thoroughbred tracks to pay a single fee to cover their on-track and any off-track operations they operate but in the case of the Daytona Beach Kennel Club, it would be considered a separate outlet.

Guzman suggested that large-handle ADWs should face higher fees, ADW's with white label sites should have to pay a fee for each one of those sites, and that ADWs that allow batch wageringlarge wagers quickly placed into the pools by computer programs —should face higher fees because those types of wagers are often responsible for late shifts in odds and other regulatory concerns.