A Call for Security

By David Ward

The recent Breeders' Cup Ultra Pick 6 scandal has brought to the racing world's attention three very disconcerting facts:
* That it happened in the first place;
* The haphazard way in which the scam was discovered;
* The denial of the simulcast outlet and tote company to the possibility of any irregularities involving the bet.

Computer security is only as effective as its weakest link, and in this case it appears the weakest link had a welcome mat in front of it. It is unbelievable that an Autotote programmer had direct access to records in a live betting pool and was able to manipulate the data with no audit trail. It also boggles the mind that, had the perpetrators done their due diligence and used a reasonably believable pick six ticket, they would never have been caught. How long and to what extent this has been going on we will never know, but this surely wasn't the first time.

The victims in this crime are the horseplayers. Whether it's the weekend amateurs who dream of striking it rich by pooling their money for the Ultra Pick 6, or the hardcore professional who views the wager as a sound investment, they all deserve the unequivocal guarantee of complete integrity within the tote system. One wonders if there is any legal recourse.

In order to ensure this will never happen again, it is obvious the racing industry must implement stricter security controls, much like those undertaken by major financial institutions. Controls also need to be implemented to analyze betting patterns and payoffs in order to identify any fraud. Nothing but iron-clad security is acceptable.

As the racing industry embraces account wagering, this issue takes on paramount importance. As more money comes into the tote systems via touch-tone phones and the Internet, the complexities of these systems grow--as does the chance for fraud.

Racing has undergone many transformations in the past 30 years, from the start of legalized OTBs, to full-card simulcasting, and now account wagering and the Internet. Handicapping information is now readily available in electronic format, and there are many tools to analyze this data. With the emergence of account wagering and the Internet, the massive potential of merging historical past performance data with real time wagering pools now exists.

The modern-day horseplayer has transcended the need of just picking winners; the challenge is maximizing profits using exotics and multiple-race bets. Access to the betting pools is invaluable to identify the payoffs that provide positive expectations. This is a laborious process and only possible when the pools are available. A few horseplayers have implemented these types of systems, some with the help of the Tote companies, but at the present time it is not being done for the general public.

If live betting pool information was made available to the public along with a user-friendly interface to analyze and manage it, it would add a new element to the art of handicapping and enhance the marketability of the game.

Among the many new features would be the user's ability to:
* Access currently "blind pools" (pick three/four and trifectas);
* Submit "conditional bets" triggered only when a bet meets a set of predefined conditions, such as only if an exacta payoff exceeds $20;
* Enter online queries of live pools to identify favorable user defined betting scenarios and generate bets;
* Study historical odds and/or betting volume;
* Receive notifications of user-requested events, such as a horse receiving a jump in betting action.

While in the process of making the tote systems secure, the tote companies must also make information more accessible and provide greater functionality to the betting public. Temptation to retreat and play it safe must be resisted. The tote systems' infrastructures must be evaluated not only in light of the needs of today, but also those of the future.

The racing industry needs to rise to the challenge presented by this PR disaster, and take the steps necessary to ensure complete integrity from its tote vendors in order to gain back the confidence of its current and future patrons.

DAVID WARD is the founder and president of the software
development company EquiSoft, located in Marblehead, Mass.