By Ed Martin
Sometimes it’s good that racing does not command the front page of USA Today’s sports section as often as it should. Because if it did, the admission by Mike Maloney at the University of Arizona’s Racing Symposium in December would certainly have commanded above the fold treatment in the same way irregular betting patterns detected by Betfair on professional tennis did recently.
Maloney, a large customer of Keeneland who is known to bet as much as $12 million a year on pari-mutuel racing, publicly revealed that he was able to make multiple bets on a race that had already started and was well under way at Fair Grounds in New Orleans last November. While late odds changes have consistently fueled suspicions of past posting, Maloney’s public admission slaps a stamp of “suspicions confirmed” in the mind of every racing fan.
What is shocking is that nobody picked up the phone when this happened to tell the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority (KHRA) or the Louisiana Racing Commission (LRC), the entities charged with ultimate responsibility for keeping wagering pools secure. Not even the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau (TRPB) was alerted, according to Lisa Underwood of the KHRA, who spoke with TRPB wagering analyst Curtis Linnell. The LRC has reason to believe that Fair Grounds may not have known itself until after the public admission was made.
Needless to say, everyone is now looking into this situation, a “glitch” in the system that allows the pools to stay open while the race is being run. Why a “glitch” occurs on one race and not on another is something for which there is no explanation, at least not now. Pools that don’t close happen more often than anyone would want to admit. The New York Racing and Wagering Board has had to deal with this at Saratoga Harness. The Texas Racing Commission admits that it does occur from time to time. All too often, the regulator is not aware of this problem unless someone tells it. One can only wonder if anyone would have known about the Fair Grounds “glitch” if Maloney had not been so forthcoming.
After Christopher Harn and his buddies turned losing wagers into winning ones at the 2002 Breeders’ Cup, the issue of wagering security catapulted to the forefront of racing’s consciousness. But as time marches on, old wounds heal and the attention of racing’s leaders has shifted to other important challenges: steroids, content distribution, and the welfare of the horse. Again, we descend into a state of complacency about the engine that fuels the entire racing industry and the equine breeding market upon which so many depend for their livelihood.
Some, like the regulators’ Association of Racing Commissioners International and the tracks’ TRPB/Standardbred Investigation Service, have not given up the fight. The RCI continues to press for real-time monitoring of every bet placed, coupled with the automated pattern analysis envisioned by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association and its wagering security effort. RCI also wants the independent testing of all pari-mutuel wagering system software by Gaming Laboratories International, the independent engineers that do so much to safeguard the integrity of the gaming industry. The TRPB/SIS has deployed talented investigators to review negative track settlements, which may be indicative of something more sinister than people cashing tickets. Linnell continues to press for a new wagering transaction protocol that will protect the business interests of the tracks and have ancillary security benefits for all.
Despite these efforts and the fact that Harn and his fellow criminals have completed their prison terms, racing has yet to deploy a ubiquitous security monitoring system of its wagering or a deep independent testing of the technology upon which the entire business depends. When asked about past posting, we can still only say that it does happen from time to time, but we cannot tell you how often because we really don’t know. That is a problem.
Mike Maloney has reminded us of our collective vulnerabilities. Perhaps if his comments and racing itself warranted greater media coverage, we might all have to appear before a committee in Washington to explain why this problem has not been addressed.
Ed Martin is president of Racing Commissioners International.