12/13/2002 12:00AM

More steps to tighten tote system


TUCSON, Ariz. - Racetracks will be asked to eliminate the ability of mutuel tellers to cancel tickets shortly after races have started, and totalizator companies will be asked to calculate final odds on races within 15 seconds of the close of betting as part of the industry's effort to close security gaps in the country's electronic wagering system, racing officials said Friday.

The two steps were announced during a presentation by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association on the final day of the Symposium on Racing. NTRA officials devoted half of their annual presentation to issues raised by the Breeders' Cup pick six investigation, a break from their normal practice of conducting a year-end review of the group's progress in promoting the sport.

Eliminating the ability of mutuel tellers to cancel tickets once a race has begun - a practice called "cancel delay" - is intended to quiet suspicions that some bettors have been able to cancel large bets after races have started. Most racetracks allow mutuel tellers to cancel tickets anywhere from 3 to 12 seconds after races have begun, ostensibly as a way to protect them from mistakenly punched tickets or any disputes with gamblers.

Chris Scherf, the executive vice president of the Thoroughbred Racing Associations, a racetrack trade group, said the tracks have been asked to eliminate their cancel delays immediately. The New York Racing Association eliminated its 15-second cancel delay, the longest in the industry, three weeks ago.

Also, Scherf said he believes that final win odds can be determined within 15 seconds of the close of betting by transmitting win, place, and show data on a priority basis through the wagering network. Currently, most racetracks cannot post final win prices any earlier than 45 seconds after a race has started because of delays in data reaching the host tracks.

Neither measure directly addresses the security gaps exploited in the pick six scandal, but instead are intended to allow final win odds to be posted as close as possible to the start of a race. In focus groups and interviews with racing fans that the NTRA conducted after the pick six scandal, bettors complained that late odds changes were creating widespread suspicion that bets were being placed after the gates had opened, NTRA officials said.

"There are no facts to indicate a widespread problem of wagering security," said NTRA commissioner Tim Smith, referring specifically to the issue of betting after the bell. "But it is a fact that some of racing's best fans are concerned, and some are quite angry."

New NTRA ads focus on jockeys

The NTRA previewed its 2003 television advertisements during the presentation. Two of the spots are similar to the campaign the NTRA used in 2002, with shots of racing fans enjoying themselves at the racetrack while popular music plays in the background. Another spot, however, focuses on jockeys, representing a bit of a departure for the NTRA.

Keith Chamblin, the NTRA's vice president of marketing, said the intent of the ads was to show racetracks "as places to gather with friends and families."

Sponsorship on the rise

Also during the presentation, the NTRA's vice president of sponsorship, Chip Campbell, called on racing associations to use the NTRA's sponsors as a way of supporting the association's efforts to bring more money to the organization. Campbell said the NTRA had only three sponsors at the beginning of the year and 10 by the time the Breeders' Cup was run in late October.

Campbell said that the NTRA expected to sign three more major sponsors in the next several months. Sponsorship revenue is expected to grow from $12 million in 2002 to $16 million in 2003, NTRA officials said.

"Seabiscuit" trailer previewed

Attendees got a sneak preview of the trailer for Universal Pictures's "Seabiscuit" during the NTRA presentation.

The movie, which had recent shoots at Keeneland Racecourse and Santa Anita Park, is scheduled to open on July 25. The trailer is expected to begin appearing in theaters on Dec. 23, NTRA officials said.

As an indication of how the movie will be marketed, the trailer was especially light on actual racing shots. Instead, using what appeared to be stock footage of bread lines and rioting, the trailer establishes the 1930's as a time of widespread concern and upheaval in the U.S., before presenting Seabiscuit's racing career as a diversion from those difficulties. The trailer closes with this message: "The Dreams of a Nation Rode on a Longshot."

* The Association of Racing Commissioners International has agreed to work with the Jockeys' Guild on developing policies that would allow jockeys to ride at heavier weights, officials said after a board meeting on Thursday afternoon at the Symposium. Many jockeys have expressed a willingness to raise the scale of weights so that riders do not have to take drastic measures to lose weight.