Late Odds Changes: How Serious is the Problem?

The topic of late odds changes continues to shadow the pari-mutuel industry.

Is the hullabaloo over late changes in pari-mutuel odds much ado about nothing? Is there anything that can be done about it save for cutting off wagering a minute before post time?

The topic again drew mixed responses Sept. 18 during sessions at the International Simulcast Conference in Kansas City, Mo. In the words of Thoroughbred Racing Associations executive vice president Chris Scherf, protocol has been four years in the making.

“It’s a slow progression,” Scherf said. “We’re not going to solve the problem this year, and we’re not going to solve the problem next year.”

Technological advances such as computer wagering have allowed for more money to be bet much closer to post time. Scherf said the effect is patrons who are convinced past-posting of bets occurs, and anytime the integrity of wagering is called into question, that’s a problem.

But how serious is the problem? Officials said that in reality, what’s going on today isn’t much different than racetracks providing $100-minimum-bet windows years ago when all wagering was done on track. The lines at those windows were small, and big bettors were able to get their bets down close to post time.

“I don’t know if it’s really different today,” said Phil O’Hara, a consultant and former racetrack executive. “I think it’s just a little more exaggerated with all the late play.”

Changes in odds also are tied to pool size. Bettors at racetracks with small win, place, and show pools fully expect wild swings in odds, sometimes during each 45- or 60-second odds cycle.

Kirk Brooks, who operates Racing and Gaming Services, an offshore rebate shop that hubs wagers in the United States, said there’s nothing wrong with computer “batch betting,” a practice that dumps money into pools, usually at the last minute. He said customers are allowed to wager in that manner as a convenience.

Brooks said big bettors are complaining about the practice only because it takes away their edge.

“They say, ‘I’m brighter than the average member of the public, and I don’t want someone equally as smart in the pools,’ ” Brooks said.

Randy Gallo, owner of Royal River Racing in South Dakota, said his betting service doesn’t allow batch betting because the racetracks from which he accepts signals are uncomfortable with it. Gallo said he polled some of his biggest customers--they wager millions of dollars a year--to ask about their concerns.

A few complained about late odds changes, but others said computerized wagering has been a source of handle growth. Gallo himself said changes in the win pool have little connection to batch betting.

“The win pool is dancing now, and it will be dancing 10 years from now,” he said of late odds changes.

J. Curtis Linnell, director of wagering analysis for the TRA, said statistics from the recent Del Mar meet indicated about 50% of the total wagered to win in a race wasn’t in the pool at three minutes to post. At post time, only 6.7% of the total wagered wasn’t in the win pool, and at “almost final”--roughly 10 second after off time--99.5% of the win pool was accounted for, he said.

“Smart money bets late, and large money bets late,” Linnell said.

Linnell suggested the manner in which odds are shown--fractional rather than to the dollar as they appear in charts and past performances--creates misconceptions, as do video feeds that don’t update odds as often as they could. He said the industry must adopt protocol that “reflects real-time wagering” in all instances.