Hearing complaints from fans and state legislators, the California Horse Racing Board tried to tackle two fronts on how to maintain integrity for the sport: late wagers and board conflicts.
Meeting Aug. 21 at San Luis Rey Downs in Bonsall, the issue of perceived “past posting”--the addition of wagers to the pool after the race has begun--again came before the board, which may consider shutting off wagering from at least some sources when the first horse enters the gate or at the announced post time.
“Of all the e-mails we get and contact we get (from the public), this is a huge issue,” CHRB chairman Richard Shapiro said. “It’s particularly prevalent at Del Mar. We don’t want to put California on an island, but we’ve got to do something. It raises the question of our integrity.”
Terry McWilliams of Scientific Games, which recently signed a new contract to provide California track tote services, updated the board on its new technology at its Sacramento facility. Instead of being sent in batches, bets made on-track at California facilities are instantaneously blended into the pool.
Two states--Florida and Arizona--still “double hop” their pools between sites within their jurisdictions before forwarding to California, McWilliams explained. That does cause some late additions into the pools in the final 60 seconds. But the major problem comes from robotic programs that dump huge amounts into the pools at the last possible second, experts said.
“We’re dealing with computer-automated wagers,” said Chuck Champion, chairman and chief executive officer of Youbet.com. “Integrity of racing is central to all of us. We’re on the very edge of it.”
Ron Charles, president of Magna Entertainment Corp.’s California tracks, said his company had done extensive study of the problem and found that 90% of instances where odds changed dramatically after the gates opened came from huge bet-downs via online.
“You can’t go to a teller and bet enough money to affect the odds in this way,” Charles said. “But you can by computer. We need to find a way to solve this.”
With only four of seven commissioners present at the Aug. 21 meeting, the board directed staff to notify states that take California’s signal to correct any double hops or lose simulcast rights. The board may also consider closing wagers via online when the horses start to load or some other cutoff time.
Commissioner John Harris said he did not want to penalize account wagering providers or fans that bet online. “Many bets are made as horses are loading,” Harris said. “It would be a mistake to limit bets before the gates open.”
Meanwhile, the commission will consider a revised conflict of interest and ethics code at its September meeting before the full board. Originally adopted in 1981 and revised in 2003, the new code re-emphasizes such basics as prohibiting commissioners from private gain or advantage from their actions or having financial interests in any racetracks, track management, concession providers, or pari-mutuel companies.
State Sen. Leland Yee, a vocal critic of the board, has an active bill in Sacramento to overhaul the ethics code and prohibit no more than three horse owners or others licensed to race in California from serving on the board at one time. It also would allow the governor to dismiss board members at any time for any reason. Currently, five out of seven commissioners are licensed horse owners.
In other business, the commission approved Oak Tree Racing Association’s upcoming fall meet, expanded five days to 31 dates. The meet opens Sept. 26 and runs through Nov. 4.
Santa Anita’s new Cushion Track will be ready for the meet. Charles said installation of the new synthetic surface is on schedule and will be completed by its Sept. 1 target. The main track will be ready for training by Sept. 10 at the latest, he said, and arrangements have been made with Del Mar to allow horses to stay a few extra days if necessary after that meet ends Sept. 5 before shipping to Arcadia.
In addition, Santa Anita has a crew of 24 carpenters working six-day weeks on barn upgrades. That renovation project will be complete by the end of January, Charles said.
“It was a lot more elaborate job than we thought,” Charles said. “But all barns will have new interiors and be much, much safer.”
To celebrate Santa Anita’s Cushion Track debut, Oak Tree and Santa Anita will give away paperweights with dirt from the old main track on the meet’s opening day. Oak Tree will host the 2008 Breeders’ Cup World Championships.
Golden Gate Fields, Santa Anita’s sister track in Northern California, is installing a Tapeta Footings synthetic surface. Track general manager Robert Hartman said the project is 10 days ahead of schedule and now will be ready for horses to return to the Albany venue Oct. 5.
When Golden Gate’s new surface comes on line, four out of five major tracks in California will have installed synthetics by the state’s Jan. 1, 2008 deadline. The CHRB granted Bay Meadows, which is in the midst of redevelopment, a one-year waiver from the synthetic track mandate.
The CHRB gathered in a large grain barn at San Luis Rey Downs facility, which got a makeover for the Web-cast meeting with fresh paint, carpet, cameras, and a sound system. More than 70 people made the trek to North San Diego County about 20 miles inland from Oceanside.
Opened in 1969, San Luis Rey Downs was purchased by MEC in 1999 and has operated as individual entity, SLRD Inc. But in June, cash-strapped MEC sold the training center’s 202 acres to MEC’s development division, MDI, which immediately leased it back to SLRD Inc.
Currently, the training center has a three-year lease with an evergreen clause, according to Leigh Ann Howard, who manages the center. About 400 Thoroughbreds train at the facility.
San Luis Rey Downs also has the support of its neighbors and community. Margarette Morgan, representing the Bonsall Community Sponsor Group, told the CHRB the land-use advisory panel sees the training center as the cornerstone of the horse-friendly town and wants to keep it economically viable.
“We’re absolutely supportive of San Luis Rey Downs,” she said. “We want to keep the track and facilities available.”