08/20/2008 12:00AM

A dizzying maze of rules

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PHILADELPHIA - It was probably about the time hail started to bounce off my umbrella like shrapnel that it dawned on me that the pick four I just got alive to in the worst way was about to end very badly. Anybody that was at Saratoga on Friday, Aug. 8, does not have to be reminded of the scene after the second race.

Tom Durkin was paging Noah. Even the man with the ark would have been overwhelmed.

As it became obvious that racing was going to be canceled, I started to wonder what might happen to my pick four. I had used four horses in the first leg because I did not really like the favorite, Mega. I used Mega defensively.

Mega, bet down to 7-5, ran out of the TV set, winning by 12 1/2 lengths. I knew at that point that my ticket was not going to be worth much, even if I did manage to have the next three legs. I had an "all" in the second leg, so I knew I was halfway home. I was wrong on all counts.

The end-of-the-world rains came. There was a hole in the racing surface around the far turn. Racing had to be canceled.

I made the assumption that the pick four would be canceled as well and anybody with live tickets would get a refund. I was wrong again.

I spoke with Patrick Mahony, NYRA's vice president of parimutuel operations, who explained what was about to happen.

Seems the rule is that if the pick four is canceled after one leg, it becomes a win pool. In this case, anybody with 7-all-all-all was a "winner." If this is winning, I don't want to see losing.

NYRA win bets are taxed at 15 percent. NRYA pick four bets are taxed at 25 percent. Even though this was now a win bet, it was taxed at pick four rates, 25 percent. My "win" bet was worth $4, less than the $4.80 of the actual win bet. So, even with an all in the second leg, I was out, loser of half my stake.

I spoke at length with Mahony two days later. He was very patient and clear in explaining all the rules. He did not disagree that a refund would be a fairer way to deal with this particular pick four case. He also said NYRA hopes to get some of the more obviously inequitable wagering rules amended to reflect wagering reality. He gave me a copy of the pick four printouts and showed me exactly how it all works. I would like to explain it to you, but I don't have enough space.

I wondered if it was like that in the pick six. Mahony assured me it was not. Could you imagine people with giant investments in a carryover being told they were now in a win pool after one leg?

While I was talking to Mahony, there was a late scratch in a maiden race. The field was now down to five, which, Mahony told me, would result in the cancellation of the trifecta. Seems that only applies in maiden races. The favorite ended up running last, but anybody who thought he made a score is still waiting for the payoff to be displayed.

I contacted somebody I knew that had played the tri, asking if he hit it. He did not, which I told him was a good thing. He could go get a refund.

In the ninth race, there was a late scratch, knocking that field down to five. My friend hit that tri. It was not a maiden race. I told him I was pretty sure he was going to cash. He did.

Then, there was the off-the-turf pick four, which was dealt with as fairly as possible, but just added to the confusion of it all.

I have spent a lot of time through the years passing cash through the windows on every bet there is, and this was one of the few times I felt I was playing the game blindly. Mahony told me that each jurisdiction has its own rules to deal with weather and acts of God. The Association of Racing Commissioners International, he said, has model rules for most situations, but, this being racing, all jurisdictions are not in agreement. Some of the rules, as Mahony went over them with me, seemed contradictory.

This game is hard enough without byzantine parimutuel rules. And I left Saratoga with my head spinning.

Got a call a few days later from my friend Ray, who is one of America's great superfecta bettors. He really dislikes the advent of the 10-cent superfecta because it has taken away his edge of overwhelming pools at smaller tracks.

Even with that, he was pretty sure he had the whole pool in the fourth race at Evangeline on Aug. 14. He saw the race as a meltdown and it was, with the top four all coming from the back. The winner was 34-1, followed by 21-1, 9-5, and 12-1 in a 14-horse field. That sounds like he should have had it all, with a pool of just $15,603. Really, how many people would have that?

Ray had a $1 ticket. It was worth $6,883. How was that possible? The evil 10-cent superfecta, which ties up lines and creates headaches for tellers. There were seven dime supers with the winning numbers.

I have railed against 10-cent supers before. Thankfully, they don't have them for the Kentucky Derby, but they have become more prevalent. I don't get it. They already have pools for people who don't really want to take risks and/or don't want to bet real money. They are called place and show.

Showing just how inequitable it is, the $2 tri at Evangeline, with the favorite third, paid $19,946.80. The $2 super (a misnomer anyway), with a 12-1 fourth, paid considerably less.

Welcome to parimutuel wagering in 2008. We have more choices than ever. We also have more chances to get caught up in a web of confusion.