11/05/2004 12:00AM

1997 redux? Luckily, not


With the opening of the Hollywood Park meet on Wednesday, horseplayers in race books around Nevada went back in time.

It seems that a snafu with the language on a simulcast contract held up parimutuel wagering from Hollywood for opening day. Although the problem was resolved before the sun set Wednesday, regulators in Nevada did not put their approval on the agreement until it was too late to save parimutuel wagering on opening day.

The situation that greeted players in the race books had them flashing back in cold sweats to the long multi-meet lockout of 1997. Although the circumstances were very different this time around, those who lived in Las Vegas during that prolonged blackout remember what life was like without the California simulcasts.

This time it was just the red tape of bureaucracy that kept bettors from watching the track feed and betting into its pools. There were no disputes on rates or rebates. Nevertheless, for one day both sides of the betting counter were taken back to the old bookmaking days.

Although race players could watch the Hollywood Park races live via TVG, the wagering menu was restricted - no pick fours or pick six - and betting limits were in effect. House quinellas - paid off using the win payoff multiplied by half the runner-up's place price - were brought back for the day, to replace the parimutuel variety.

Most players took the opening day setback in stride - as long as it was just a one-day thing.

At the Orleans, race book director Randi Muniz reported that fewer people than usual stayed for the afternoon card once the Eastern tracks had concluded.

"Once we got the system over to the bookmaking side, we were all set to handle the action," she said. "Some of my ticket writers didn't work in race books during those days and it took them by surprise. It was kind of fun to go back, but fun just for a day."

Bert Cirincione, race and sport manager at the Sunset Station, reflected similar sentiments. "Our players adapted well, but were disappointed by the limited betting menu," he said.

The biggest complaint by players was getting shut out of betting each race. Cirincione kept reminding players that Nevada bookmaking rules demanded that race books shut the betting windows at two minutes to post time for each race.

"Our handle was down about 30 percent because players are so used to betting until the starting gate opens," he said.

Some players rode the bumpy ride. Tony Lamonica, who has houses in both California and Las Vegas, felt at a loss not being able to get his daily pick six and pick four fix on Southern California racing.

"Thank goodness it was only Hollywood Park today," Lamonica said while he watched his Bay Meadows action.

Local businessman Frank Avila, who schedules his meetings on Mondays and Tuesdays and in the mornings so he can get to the book by post time, had a frustrating day.

"I bet superfectas and juicy longshots in trifectas to beat the races, and this is killing me," he said, referring to house limits placed on exotic wagers.

That was, of course, after Avila was shut out at the betting windows three times for getting in line too late.

Most players understood the situation and were cooperative. But that was because they realized the stroll down memory lane was just for a day.

Ralph Siraco is turf editor for the Las Vegas Sun and host of the Race Day Las Vegas radio show.