'Beat the Odds' Ends Up Loser Amid Integrity Concerns

After months of debate, the California Horse Racing Board has shot down a proposal for a wager in which winning is tied to losing favorites.

The bet, called "Beat the Odds," was first presented Jan. 23 at the CHRB Pari- Mutuel Committee meeting. On Oct. 23, the bet failed to garner support from the CHRB when it failed to get a second on a motion for passage.

The object of Beat the Odds is to select horses that are non-favorites in three or more races on a program. If the favorite wins any of the designated races, the ticket is a loser.

The wager had the support of the California Horse Racing Industry Fans Committee, which noted California bettors like multi-race wagers. In a letter to the CHRB, David Pascale, chairman of the committee, said the wager would appeal to experienced bettors because "they know when favorites are vulnerable," and appeal to novices should the pools grow because of carryovers.

During a public comment period, no objections were raised. On Oct. 23, board members and racetrack officials voiced opinions.

Board member Alan Landsburg said the pools could be quite small at first and be victimized "by someone who wanted to play games." Landsburg said the CHRB is attempting to improve public perception and ensure integrity in pools, and that Beat the Odds "may well do no good for racing, and maybe harm."

Jack Liebau, who oversees California racing for Magna Entertainment Corp., said MEC tracks and others were willing to give the bet a try. He dismissed concerns Beat the Odds would be ripe for chicanery.

"I think you'd have to be a rocket scientist (to fix the bet)," Liebau said. "There has never been any concern about the Head-to-Head wager. I think Head-to-Head is a lot easier to fix than this thing."

The Head-to-Head wager, approved by the CHRB, was offered for the second time Oct. 25 on the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships program at Santa Anita Park. In Head-to-Head wagering, one horse is pitted against another, and bettors choose which one will finish ahead of the other.

This year's Head-to-Head pools in the eight Cup races ranged from $115,131 in the Breeders' Cup John Deere Turf (gr. IT) to $14,267 in the Breeders' Cup Classic - Powered by Dodge (gr. I). The winning payoffs ranged from $3.20 to $3.80.

Liebau later said he supports Head-to-Head wagering but wanted to point out it would be easier to tamper with than Beat the Odds. John Van de Kamp, president of the Thoroughbred Owners of California, indicated he didn't care for either bet.

"It's a general concern about integrity," Van de Kamp said. "Betting against favorites raises problems. We're seeing this in regard to (betting exchanges). Head-to-Head wagering is perhaps more potentially dangerous (than Beat the Odds), and should have been looked at more carefully."

With betting exchanges, generally offered offshore, people bet one horse against another horse and can pick odds. The wagers aren't pari-mutuel, so the "handle" doesn't produce revenue for the racing industry. Some betting exchanges have worked out deals to offer a percentage of revenue to the racing industry in other countries.