05/18/2008 11:00PM

California eyes snafu in bet sales

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The California Horse Racing Board has launched an investigation into the sale of so-called "Quick-Pick" bets in the state after discovering that the machines selling the bets have been malfunctioning, the board said on Monday.

As part of the investigation, the board has prohibited the state's bet-processing company, Scientific Games, from selling quick-pick tickets, which allow bettors to buy tickets in which the horses selected for the wager are picked by a random-number generator. The generator can be used for any type of wager.

According to the racing board's chairman, Richard Shapiro, the malfunction came to light after a bettor complained that the number "20" was omitted from 1,300 $1 superfecta tickets he purchased before the May 3 Kentucky Derby, which was won by the 20 horse, Big Brown, according to the racing board. The superfecta including Big Brown paid $29,368.90.

The board was alerted to the problem on May 9, according to Shapiro, and then issued a directive to Scientific Games to cease taking quick-pick bets in California. Along with the cause of the malfunction, Shapiro said that the investigation will seek to determine whether Scientific Games was aware of the malfunction before the racing board was.

"The unusual nature of this was that you would never know the malfunction was occurring unless someone came to you with a big stack of tickets and said, 'Hey, I didn't get any number 20s on one ticket,' " Shapiro said. The bettor received a refund of his wagers, Shapiro said.

Tom Hodgkins, the vice president of government affairs and public relations for Scientific Games, said Monday that the problem was the result of a "glitch" that caused the random-number generator on its BetJet terminals to omit the last horse in a race from any quick-pick bet. He said all of the company's BetJet terminals at all North American betting sites have been modified so that no quick-pick bets can be entered.

Hodgkins declined to comment on when Scientific Games became aware of the problem. "It would be premature to talk about the timing because there is an investigation going on and we have just begun our internal review," Hodgkins said.

Scientific Games, formerly known as Autotote, has been at the center of wagering controversies in the past. In 2002, an employee of the company altered several pick six tickets placed on the races from Belmont Park and the Breeders' Cup event that year. The employee, Chris Harn, along with two associates, served federal prison terms for their role in the alterations.

Hodgkins said that he "was unaware of anything but a software glitch" to explain the malfunction after being asked whether the company had ruled out foul play.

Though sabotage is unlikely, it is not out of the question: A computer coder could disable one of the numbers in the random-number generator in order to cover the combinations with his or her own tickets. That scheme, however, would not eliminate tickets by people who had selected the combinations without using the quick-bet process.

Shapiro said he was confident that there was no foul play.

"I truly think this is a software problem," he said. "Even so, we're going to conduct a full investigation."