Perception, Not Integrity, Called Major Issue

Public perception is called the major problem for wagering systems.

Officials assembled for the International Simulcast Conference said Oct. 12 public perception, not integrity, is the primary problem for the industry’s wagering systems.

“We don’t have an integrity issue,” Thoroughbred Racing Associations executive vice president Chris Scherf said. “We have some operational issues to work out.”

The conference, held in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., opened with an overview of the status of the wagering system, ongoing upgrades, and future plans. Scherf and others said there are “little things” that can be done, not the least of which is communicating with the public.

For instance, Scherf said the perception of past-posting—making wagers after “off” time of races—is overblown. He said there have been eight confirmed cases of past-posting out of 60,000 races, which means past-posting isn’t the cause of everyday late changes in odds.

“There are a lot of misconceptions out there,” Scherf said. “The two aren’t related.”

J. Curtis Linnell, director of wagering analysis for the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau, offered results of studies on late odds shifts at 18 racetracks. Overall, the average change in odds per runner was 0.69%. In the final odds cycle, he said, the average change in odds was 0.96%.

The smallest changes in odds cycle to cycle occurred at Saratoga, which has some of the largest pools in the United States.

“The cycle time (for displaying odds) is critical to odds changes,” Linnell said. “The larger the pool is, the more stable the odds. Some of our problems are of our own making in how we display the odds.”

There is growing sentiment in the industry to stop displaying “fractional” odds, such as 5-2 and 9-2, and show decimal odds. That way, changes in odds would be more transparent and at times not as large as those indicated by changes in fractional odds.

“This has got to stop,” Linnell said. “Going to decimal odds will eliminate approximate odds.”

The TRPB Betting Analysis Platform launched in 2006 with a push toward real-time monitoring, which Linnell said is “almost all the way there.” Since 2007, wagering on every race at TRA-member tracks has been databased and run through an autonomous process; since 2008, all pari-mutuel prices at the same tracks have been databased.

Scherf said all stakeholders need to adopt basic protocol that ultimately will become part of the code of standards for the National Thoroughbred Racing Association Safety and Integrity Alliance. The issues are having protocol for stop-betting commands; synchronizing of video and tote systems; reduction in the cycle and reporting time for odds; and elimination of cancel delays and “double hops.”

Scherf said there are two “non-solutions”—stopping wagering at zero minutes to post, and a process called transactional monitoring. The latter has been regularly discussed by regulators; Indiana racetracks adopted the program voluntarily, while New York passed a law mandating it.

In New York, all three tote companies—AmTote, Scientific Games, and United Tote—must have contracts in place with the state by Oct. 15, said Lonny Powell, a senior adviser for Advanced Monitoring Systems and owner of L. Powell Strategy and Solutions. Powell said independent monitoring systems such as those run by AMS may be misunderstood.

“From an industry perception perspective, (Chris Scherf’s comments) were right on,” said Powell, who is attending the simulcast conference. “The industry doesn’t have an integrity problem as much as it has a perception problem. We as an industry have done a terrible job (explaining that), and monitoring systems are a tool that can help.

“Our system is not the cops. It’s a tool for regulators, racetracks, and the TRPB. There is a place in this world for all of us.”

As for the close of wagering at zero minutes to post, Scherf said it doesn’t work. He said regular incidents at the starting gate that hold up the start of races would create even more outcry from players as they lost wagering opportunities because pools were closed.

“The lost wagering dollars (are a problem),” Scherf said. “There aren’t a whole lot of wagering dollars floating around this industry right now.”

The simulcast conference continues Oct. 13-14. The conference began with a moment of silence for Brody Johnson, the Harness Tracks of America executive assistant who died Oct. 7 at the age of 26. The HTA co-hosts the simulcast conference with the TRA in association with the American Greyhound Track Operators Association.