CHRB Refuses Early Bet Cut-Off Request

The California Horse Racing Board Thursday surprisingly denied Hollywood Park permission to close all betting when the post time clock clicks to "zero."

"Their complacency is shocking to me," said a dismayed Hollywood Park president Rick Baedecker of the board's rejection. "This was a black-and-white opportunity to go on the record and do something for customer confidence in the sport."

Hollywood Park requested permission to follow the lead of its parent company, Churchill Downs Inc., and close all betting on all races at official post time, two minutes or more before the horses actually leave the gate. The actual off time is when betting closes at most tracks. California rules lock out betting at the start of a race.

Saying they wanted to keep the state's post time policy consistent to avoid confusing bettors, board members denied Hollywood Park a special rules waiver on a 5-1 vote. Only commissioner Marie Moretti backed Hollywood's request, which would have been in effect through the end of its meet Dec. 22.

While sister tracks Churchill Downs, Hoosier and Calder instituted the early-closing policy a week ago, Hollywood Park had to wait for board consideration before taking such action. The policy is aimed at preventing "past-posting" - betting on a race after the horses have left the gate.

Although no evidence of actual past-posting has been found, plenty of anecdotal circumstances have left patrons leery. Among the suspicious incidents: The winner of the first race on the first day of Hollywood Park's spring meet left the gate at 9-2, but crossed the wire at 2-5.

Hollywood Park surveyed 301 of its customers Nov. 16 and 17 to determine attitudes about the policy.

"We have no evidence of wrongdoing," said Baedecker, "but 40 percent of our fans believe you can make a bet after the windows close. And 68 percent feel that it's likely fraudulent bets take place. That's as real as anything.

"We have a horrible perception problem in this state," he added. "We need to do something and can't wait around six months for a study."

But Hollywood did not have the backing of other tracks, including Magna-owned Santa Anita, Golden Gate and Bay Meadows, or horsemen, who were concerned that closing windows early would cut handle. A couple of fans in attendance also spoke against the waiver.

"There should a consistent policy," said John Van de Kamp, president of the Thoroughbred Owners of California. "We want to look at what's happened elsewhere."

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At the board's final meeting of 2002, the CHRB heard in detail how California's racing industry and its individual segments should confront the major crisis that has grown out of the Breeders' Cup Pick Six scandal.

Most racing entities have formed a united front, demanding tighter technological security.

"The industry has never come together like this before," said Greg Avioli, deputy commissioner of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, which he said intends to raise $3 million to assist in this heightened technological security effort.

Jack Liebau, who is in charge of Magna Entertainment's three California tracks and serves as Bay Meadows president, backs the NTRA-led technological crusade.

"We've reacted in a prudent manner," he said . "We're regarding this as an isolated event that could have happened in any industry, not just racing. The thing that's important is that this misdeed was uncovered quickly and dealt with immediately."

Added commissioner John Harris, "We need to have the goal of getting this whole tote system up to 21st century speed. We need to set standards high enough because we're responsible."

Autotote president Brooks Pierce assured the board that his company would have new software in place to close the technological loopholes used in the Pick Six scam within 14 days. But he regarded Hollywood Park's request as "a totally unrelated issue."

Autotote's new software will automatically transmit all information on a bet, including horse selections, after each leg of the Pick Six and other multiple-race wagers such as the Pick Four, thus blocking similar scams to the Breeders' Cup case. Pierce said he hopes to have the software installed by Nov. 29.

A ticket-by-ticket audit has begun of 342 Pick Six and 132 Pick Four winners, each worth more than $10,000 and paid out this past year, said Avioli. A random review of thousands of other bets will soon be under way.

In other business, the board elected Roger Licht as its new chairman and Harris as vice chairman, effective Jan. 1. Film producer Alan Landsburg will continue to serve as chairman through the end of 2002.

Licht, an attorney currently acting as the board's vice chairman, represents California racing on one of three task forces allied with the NTRA's Wagering Technology Working Group.