Are Tracks Responsible for Non-Merged Wagers?

The question of who is responsible for bets not merged into pools is debated.

Aside from the issue of when to close betting pools, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission is debating a recommendation that racetracks made good on winning wagers that aren’t merged into pools.

The recommendation from the KHRC Wagering Integrity Committee reads: “The KHRC shall require licensed racing associations be held responsible for wagers placed in Kentucky on both in-and out-of-state horse races. If a Kentucky racing association or off-track betting facility accepts a bet on a race, it must pay off any winning tickets.”

The KHRC considered the recommendation Oct. 27 but took no action. It will be discussed as part of a public meeting sometime in November.

“It comes down to integrity again,” said KHRC member Tom Ludt, who chairs the wagering committee. “(A mutuel ticket) is a binding contract.”

There are times when wagers aren’t merged into host-track pools. Some tracks refund them, while others pay the winnings.

Turfway Park president Bob Elliston said such wagers don’t make it into the pari-mutuel system; therefore, making payments on them could violate state statute. Bookmaking isn’t legal in Kentucky.

Elliston used the following example: Someone at Turfway makes a $1,000 wager on a pick four with a $1-million guaranteed pool at Belmont Park, but the bet isn’t merged into the Belmont pool because of tote malfunction. The ticket is a winner worth $400,000.

Belmont, Elliston said, would claim it’s a non-wager because it wasn’t merged. Turfway would have to pay the $400,000 if the KHRC adopts the recommended rule.

“Pari-mutuel means losers pay winners,” Elliston said, noting if the bet isn’t in the pool, there’s no “losers’ money” to pay it.

“It’s a bad public relations situation,” Elliston said. “We endeavor to explain to our customers exactly what has happened (and why the posted winning amount isn’t paid).”

KHRC officials said statutory changes might be necessary to implement such a recommendation.