Legality of Pick 6 Wagers Called Into Question

by Tom LaMarra and Victor Ryan

As the investigation into "unusual circumstances" surrounding winning Breeders' Cup Ultra Pick Six wagers continued Oct. 30, there was some speculation as to whether those bets, and perhaps others made through unlicensed account-wagering providers, are legal in Maryland.

The six winning tickets were purchased through Catskill Off-Track Betting Corp. in New York, which is not licensed in Maryland. Published reports, including those in the New York Times, identified the bettor as Derrick Davis, who resides in Maryland.

In Maryland, account wagering is legal through licensed racetracks, or service providers appointed by the tracks. Currently, only the TV Games Network is a licensed provider, but industry officials believe other companies take wagers from Maryland residents., the account-wagering arm of Catskill OTB, lists on its Web site states from which wagers aren't accepted. The list includes states where pari-mutuel wagering isn't legal, or states such as Arizona, New Jersey, and Texas, where account wagering isn't legal.

Some Maryland officials, including assistant attorney general Bruce Spizler, have been reluctant to comment publicly on the issue. Spizler, when contacted by The Blood-Horse, would not comment on any action the state's racing commission may take in regard to the matter.

Attorney Lou Ulman, who chairs the Maryland Racing Commission, confirmed that TVG is the only licensed account-wagering provider licensed to accept bets from Maryland residents. Ulman told The Blood-Horse any decision on legal action would be deferred to the attorney general's office.

"It is a criminal statute," Ulman said, "and we have been working for four or five months with other (non-licensed) systems (to get them to stop taking wagers)."

Some have refused, he said. But there might be a way to force the companies to adhere to Maryland law, Ulman said.

"Maybe they are aiding and abetting (a criminal)," Ulman said in reference to the statute. He indicated the statute would allow the company to be prosecuted along with the individual offender.

Meanwhile, the Baltimore Sun reported in its Oct. 30 edition that Ulman doesn't believe the state could stop Davis from collecting his winnings should it be determined there was no fraud.

Federal law allows for intrastate wagering, or wagering between states. Account wagering is legal in both Maryland and New York.

In the pari-mutuel industry, a wager is said to originate in the state where the initial transaction is made; in the case of the Pick Six wagers in question, that would be New York.

The National Thoroughbred Racing Association and Breeders' Cup formally requested the probe by letter from NTRA commissioner Tim Smith and Breeders' Cup president D.G. Van Clief Jr. to New York State Racing and Wagering Board chairman Michael Hoblock. The NYSRWB has a policy not to comment while matters are under investigation.

A total of $4,646,289 was wagered on the Pick Six. There were six winning tickets with a payout of $428,392 each. The consolation payoff for five correct was $4,606.20. The payouts have been frozen.

Catskill OTB president Donald Groth has said the transaction was reviewed and nothing unusual was found. Brooks Pierce, president of Autotote, which provides the tote system for Catskill OTB, said data shows the bet was made 20 minutes before the NetJets Breeders' Cup Mile, first leg of the Pick Six.

In a prepared statement, Breeders' Cup officials said the concerns are related to possible "electronic manipulation of wagering data" and not to the races themselves. A spokeswoman for the NYSRWB could not be reached immediately Oct. 30 to comment on the status of the investigation.