Track Sues Announcer Over Patent Rights to Wager

By Dan Johnson

Prairie Meadows is suing track announcer Ken Miller over the patent rights to a "Pick 5" wager Miller conceived and the track plans to offer. The tug-of-war has created such a strain that the Iowa racetrack and casino has suspended Miller, who has called races there since 1989.

Miller could not be reached for comment. His track-supplied cell phone number is no longer in service.

Miller thought up a Pick 5 bet similar to an NFL parlay. The bet requires picking the winners of five races, but horseplayers could select any five races they wanted. For example, if a bettor thought the easiest races were the first, third, fourth, sixth, and eighth races, those could be the five races in the sequence.

That separates the wager from other bets like the pick three or pick six, in which the track determines the consecutive races in the sequence. Miller contends he conceived of the wager on his own time. He said in November he thought of the wager while looking at an NFL parlay board while on vacation in Las Vegas.

"It involves an intellectual property," Miller said.

The track argues that since Miller is an employee that used its computer to work out some of the details, Prairie Meadows owns the rights to the bet.

"Prairie Meadows believes that the Pick 5 concept is the proprietary rights of Prairie Meadows," track attorney Tom Flynn said. "Therefore, it should have the right and is moving to patent the wager. If anyone else claims any rights therein, the ownership rights will have to be resolved in court. He was an employee of Prairie Meadows, utilizing Prairie Meadows resources during the time he was working on this wager."

Miller and Flynn said they know of no other bet that has been patented. The track's suit, filed in Polk County District Court, contends Miller has sought to patent the bet. It seeks a judgment that the wager belongs to Prairie Meadows and not Miller.

When asked if he has been approached by firms seeking to patent the bet, Miller said: "I signed a confidentiality agreement, so I'm not at liberty to say." However, Miller said he was surprised he was being sued.

"I had to find out from a reporter from the Des Moines Register, so you could say it catches me a little off-guard," Miller said.

Jack Peters, the horse industry's appointment to the Racing Association of Central Iowa, said he knew there had been friction, but he thought it had been resolved.

"I thought everything was behind everybody," Peters said. "From what I knew, it was onward to other things."

Peters said the bet was Miller's brainchild. "No question, it was his baby," Peters said. "I was at the (University of Arizona Symposium on Racing), and that thing was extremely well-received . They thought that it really had a unique fit."

Track officials have been mum on what the dispute means to Miller's future.

"It's not something that I can talk about," said Tom Manning, Prairie Meadows' marketing director. He referred questions to Steve Hansen, the track's human resources director, who declined comment.