10/20/2009 12:00AM

Kentucky tracks against closing pools earlier


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Kentucky racetracks are preparing arguments against a proposal that the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission will consider next week to close betting pools at zero minutes to post regardless of whether all the horses have been loaded into the starting gate, according to racing officials.

Though many racetrack officials would not comment on the proposal Tuesday, one day after the Wagering Integrity Committee of the commission forwarded the recommendation to the full commission, racing officials in the state said that racetrack owners believe the measure would significantly dampen betting on Kentucky races at a time when most racetracks are experiencing double-digit declines in wagering tied to the recession.

Bob Elliston, president of Turfway Park in northern Kentucky, said Tuesday that he has asked Churchill Downs and Keeneland to provide him with data tied to experiments the two tracks briefly staged in late 2002 and early 2003 in which betting was closed at zero minutes to post. Though he would not comment specifically about the proposal, he also said that if the data showed that the measure negatively impacted handle, he would fight it.

"At a time when our handle is declining, it certainly doesn't seem like a prudent course to me," Elliston said.

Rogers Beasley, director of racing for Keeneland, would not comment on the merits of the proposal.

"This is an important issue, and we hope to have substantive discussions with the commission about the effects and ramifications before any action is taken," Beasley said.

Churchill officials did not return phone calls Tuesday.

Keeneland, Aqueduct in New York, and the tracks owned by Churchill Downs Inc. briefly closed betting at zero minutes to post shortly after the Breeders' Cup pick-six scandal in 2002, when an employee of a bet-processing company altered a pick-six ticket after four legs of the wager had already been run. The scandal shook the confidence of betting fans across the United States and exposed several deficiencies in the nationwide parimutuel network. The tracks dropped the measure after handle totals fell off.

Officials who attended the Monday committee meeting said the rule was introduced in an attempt to address concerns about late odds changes in races. Late odds changes occur because the bet-processing network cannot instantaneously aggregate, calculate, and transmit odds to every available display device when betting closes at the start of a race, though many racing fans complain that the changes are due to past-post betting, a practice that racing officials said is extraordinarily rare.

Chris Scherf, executive vice president of the TRA, said that tracks that close betting at zero minutes to post typically see handle drop "precipitously" because racing fans are accustomed to being able to place bets up until the gates open. Approximately two-thirds to three-quarters of all bets are placed within two minutes of the start of a race, Scherf said.

"We don't have exact figures, but you can start at double digits for how much you are going to be down," Scherf said. "It's surprising even if you expect wagering to go down."

In addition, Scherf said, when betting is closed at zero minutes to post, late odds changes still occur, but they occur prior to the race going off, because the bet-processing system is still not capable of calculating the odds instantaneously.

"You may get the bad news before the race starts, but you're still going to get bad news," Scherf said.