12/04/2002 1:00AM

Fair Grounds tote falters

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Bettors at most of the offtrack betting parlors run by Fair Grounds could not wager for more than two hours on Nov. 29 after the track lost a communication link with its betting hub in Houston.

The link went down shortly after the third race and was restored after the eighth, according to Bryan Krantz, the president of Fair Grounds. During that time, bettors at eight OTB's run by the track in the New Orleans area could not bet on the track's races or any other races around the country.

The problem was the third in two years in which betting at the track was suspended because of disruptions in the track's betting network, which is run by Autotote.

"It's one of those things where you have a hardware problem, and it's tough to satisfy your customers about what went wrong," Krantz said.

When the link went down, Fair Grounds had a choice to take its own machines and those at two OTB's off line, or take the machines at its eight other OTB's off line, Krantz said. Track officials chose to allow the ontrack customers to continue to bet.

In 2001, a tote disruption nearly wiped out all betting on the Louisiana Derby, one of the Fair Grounds's most popular races. On that day, severe weather in Houston forced Sam Houston Race Park, which operates a regional betting hub, to switch to a backup generator. The backup failed, cutting off bettors at the track and around the country. Handle on the race was down $1 million compared with the previous year.

Krantz said the recent disruption has not made him consider switching tote companies. Autotote, the largest tote company in the U.S., has been the target of concerns since the Breeders' Cup pick six investigation uncovered security gaps in the company's network.

"The service isn't bad, it's just that we've had some problems that have compromised us," Krantz said. "And each time something like this has happened, we've sat down and talked about it, and they've come back with solutions that have satisfied us."