Major Players on Board for Planned Tote Upgrade

The pari-mutuel industry April 9 officially acknowledged an initiative designed to upgrade the infrastructure of wagering systems and improve security and network capabilities.

A release from the Churchill Downs Simulcast Network said a "project team" that includes representatives of Churchill Downs Inc., Magna Entertainment Corp., the New York Racing Association, AmTote, Scientific Games, United Tote, The Jockey Club, and the Thoroughbred Racing Associations is working on the initiative, the basic goal of which is to "upgrade the existing platform and overcome limitations inherent in the current tote-to-tote communications network."

During the joint meeting of the TRA and Harness Tracks of America in early March in Florida, racetrack representatives held a private meeting to discuss an overall wagering systems upgrade. Giuliani Partners, hired by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, last year made recommendations in the wake of the 2002 Breeders' Cup Ultra Pick 6 fraud.

The Jockey Club has figured prominently in the push for a centralized database and tote upgrade, but the April 9 release indicates it's now more of a racing association-driven effort. The racetracks are the ones that negotiate with the tote companies, all of which are said to be on board.

"The inclusion of all industry stakeholders gives this project the greatest chance of success," said Alan Marzelli, president and chief operating officer of The Jockey Club, said in the release.

"This is a business initiative driven by the racetracks' need to serve our customers more effectively," CDSN president Karl Schmitt said in the release.

"Creating a user-friendly tote system that operates in real time with the latest cyber security is intended to place customer service at the center of our systems design effort." MEC chief information officer Steve Keech said in the same release.

The project team will work closely with the NTRA Office of Wagering Security to develop minimum, uniform standards for the pari-mutuel wagering system and provide the capability for real-time security monitoring by the office.

Said Chris Scherf, executive vice president of the TRA: "The continued leadership of our three largest racetrack companies will be a key factor in driving this process forward, and additional racetracks have indicated keen interest in the project and its goals."

MEC owns about one-third of AmTote. Autotote, a subsidiary of Scientific Games, accounts for about 60% of total handle in the United States and thus is the largest tote company by volume.

Officials said that a comprehensive project plan is now in the works, and that periodic media updates would be provided over the course of the next several months.