KY Delays Action on Stop-Bet Recommendation

A plan to stop wagering early at Kentucky tracks was delayed Oct. 27.

A controversial recommendation to halt wagering at zero minutes to post time at all racetracks was shelved by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission Oct. 27 pending a public meeting at which the issue will be further vetted.

The KHRC spent more than an hour discussing the recommendation, which has been employed from time to time around the country since 2002 without success. Racetracks have acknowledged a need to eliminate late odds changes and past-posting—real or perceived—but believe it should be done in a way that doesn’t reduce pari-mutuel handle.

Some tracks ended wagering well before “off” time after the Breeders’ Cup Ultra Pick 6 fraud of 2002 but reverted to previous policy of ending betting when the horses leave the starting gate. The industry has struggled to find a resolution for about seven years.

Tom Ludt, who chairs the KHRC Wagering Integrity Committee, said the panel unanimously recommended the zero-minutes scheme. Ludt said it’s important to improve the public image of racing and reduce manipulation of odds.

“The integrity of the game is being compromised,” Ludt said. “It’s a matter of retraining gamblers to make their bets earlier. The state of Kentucky will take a short-term hit on handle. This is a very difficult issue for the commission to tackle. It would be a much better solution if other states would support this.”

Mike Maloney, a Lexington bettor and member of the wagering committee, said Kentucky could have a positive impact nationally by adopting the policy. He suggested money would return to Kentucky pools after bettors see more stable odds.

“I know it’s a leap of faith for racetracks in today’s economic climate,” Maloney said.

Track officials balked at the plan. Churchill Downs president Kevin Flanery said the last time Churchill tried closing pools early, handle dropped 20%.

“When handle goes down, purses go down, and when handle goes down, revenue to the state goes down,” Flanery said. “What I hope we do is look at what the alternatives are going forward.”

Earlier this year, Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course in Pennsylvania caught two past-posting incidents that were tied to tote communications failure, not intentional manipulation. Track officials opted to close betting at zero minutes to post, but the experiment ended in less than a week.

Turfway Park president Bob Elliston said to his knowledge there haven’t been incidents of past-posting—making wagers after races begin—on Kentucky racing. He said tracks have made “significant enhancements” to the system by cycling odds quicker and eliminating cancel delays.

Rick Hiles, president of the Kentucky Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, said the zero-minutes plan could wreak havoc on Kentucky Derby (gr. I) day at Churchill.

“Think about the revenue that’s going to be lost, and that will impact purses for horsemen,” Hiles said.

There is a belief an early stop-betting command won’t eliminate the problem. There still will be another odds cycle after wagering closes, and large win bets into smaller pools will skew the odds.

“I hope we’re not going after a perception problem issue that won’t be resolved by the action we take,” Flanery said.

“This could be a non-solution to this problem,” Kentucky Downs president Corey Johnsen said.

Ludt said integrity is paramount, and right now, the public is skeptical. He blasted the pari-mutuel industry at large for its efforts.

“They say we’re dealing with it, but they’re not really dealing with it,” Ludt said. “The Thoroughbred industry is so dysfunctional because nobody wants to lead.”

The KHRC said it will schedule the public meeting within 30 days. The next KHRC meeting is set for Dec. 1, but it remains to be seen whether there will be a vote on the committee recommendations.