Flooding Knocks Out Houston Wagering Hub

Racetracks and off-track betting sites lost hundreds of thousands of dollars after heavy flooding in Houston shut down a wagering hub two hours before the Belmont Stakes on June 9.

"The AT&T main frame got flooded and phone lines went down all over Houston," said Chad Schexnayder, assistant director of publicity for Fair Grounds. "All our parlors went down at 3 p.m. (CDT). After the race, we closed everything."

Fair Grounds operates 10 off-track betting parlors, a telephone account wagering system, and an Internet wagering service. Schexnayder said about 200-250 people were at the OTBs to bet and wager on the Belmont Stakes.

The problem was unrelated to a March 11 power outage at the Scientific Games (formerly known as Autotote) totalizator hub at Sam Houston Race Park, which shut down wagering for 20 minutes before the Louisiana Derby.

"It wasn't an Autotote problem," Schexnayder said. "It was a phone-line problem. Many of the ATMs in New Orleans were out of service because they were tied into Houston hubs." The flooding was caused by Tropical Storm Allison, which dumped one to two inches of rain per hour on Houston over the weekend.

On June 10, tote services for Fair Grounds and its Gretna and Kenner OTBs were routed to a hub in Chicago. The rest of the parlors remained closed. The two parlors and the racetrack could accept cash wagers only. Customers could not use their accounts because they are maintained at the Houston hub. All services were fully restored by June 11.

The Houston hub processes an estimated $2 billion in wagers annually for Fair Grounds, Sam Houston, Ruidoso Downs in New Mexico, Great Lakes Downs and Mt. Pleasant in Michigan, and the Mobile Greyhound Park and Valley Race Park dog track.

An estimate of how much money the shutdown cost the racetracks and Scientific Games was unavailable.