09/30/2003 11:00PM

Late odds limit in the works


BURLINGAME, Calif. - Final win odds on horses may be able to be calculated within 10 seconds of the start of a race, totalizator and simulcasting officials said this week at the International Simulcast Conference, significantly cutting into the chances that a horse's displayed odds will change deep into the running of a race.

The improvement, the officials say, will come from changes to bet-processing software that will seek to eliminate snags in the betting network, abolish the ability of tellers to cancel bets after the race has started, and put a priority on transmitting and calculating win prices before handling data on other bets.

Late odds changes have been one of the most pressing concerns of horseplayers over the past five years. Bettors have complained that the changes introduce suspicion that cheaters are either betting after the gate opens or canceling large bets after the race has started.

Totalizator company officials and simulcasting officials have always maintained that late odds changes are a natural and increasingly common consequence of the flood of money that is bet just before a race starts. Despite those assurances, however, bettors have pressed the racing industry to improve its ability to calculate and display final win odds more efficiently, and the cause is currently being taken up by a players committee set up by the NTRA.

The committee's chairman, Jim Quinn, a handicapper and author, said at the conference that his surveys have indicated that players will tolerate, at most, a delay of 30 seconds. But he also said that players would feel most comfortable with no late odds changes at all.

Earlier this week, the 2020 Committee of the Thoroughbred Racing Association, a racetrack trade group that organizes the simulcast conference, met to discuss the improvements to the win-odds calculation.

According to Chris Scherf of the TRA, representatives of the four totalizator companies that process bets in North America assured the committee members that the win-odds calculation could be cut to 10 seconds by the end of the year.

A number of snags that delay either the calculation or the display of final odds will likely still exist in some regions by the end of the year, the Totalizator officials said.

One of those snags is the existence of so-called "double-hops" in states like Florida and Illinois. The double-hops occur when wagering totals have to be consolidated at a separate location in the state before being forwarded to the final hub.

The double-hops are required by law or regulation in the states, and contribute to a 10- to 15-second delay in calculations, officials said.

The TRA committee had also passed an informal requirement for tracks to eliminate the ability of tellers to cancel tickets anywhere from five to 15 seconds after the start of a race by Sept. 1. More than a dozen tracks, however, failed to comply with the deadline because the cancel delays are, for the most part, written into contracts with the mutuel tellers' unions. Mutuel tellers insist that the delays allow them to avoid having a customer make a bet and then refuse to pay for it.

Scherf said he believes the cancel delays will be eliminated by next year at nearly every track after negotiations with tellers or through the passage of regulations prohibiting the practice.

National database envisioned

On Monday, during the conference's opening presentation, Greg Avioli, the deputy commissioner of the NTRA, said that racing is going to be compelled to create a national database of wagering activity in order to properly monitor the security of wagering pools. But before doing that, Avioli said, there will have to be a major upgrade of the hardware and software that is currently being used by the industry's bet-processing companies.

"For a sophisticated business, you have to be able to look at every transaction on a daily basis," Avioli said. "It would solve a lot of our problems in the past and in the future."

North Dakota handle down sharply

Paul Bowlinger, the executive director of the North Dakota Racing Commission, said Monday that handle through Racing Services Inc., the offtrack wagering company seized in late August by government regulators, has fallen to $60,000 to $70,000 a week since the company's biggest customer left North Dakota.

The weekly totals would add up to approximately $30 million in wagering a year through RSI, which had approximately $200 million in handle for 2002. Most of the 2002 handle came from one source, Peter Wagner, who received rebates on his betting. Wagner left North Dakota this summer after federal prosecutors began investigating the company for failing to pay its income taxes, officials said.