08/25/2003 11:00PM

NTRA security proposal wasteful


TUCSON, Ariz. - Two of the few things in Thoroughbred racing not controlled or overseen or heavily influenced by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, in its brief and successful history, are security and the parimutuel system. They have remained apart and independent.

After reading the 21-page report of the NTRA Wagering Technology Working Group, prepared “in conjunction with Giuliani Partners,” and the 16 pages of its Endnotes - and also reading between the lines - it seems that may change.

The report calls for establishment, during the first six months of 2004, of a National Office of Wagering Security.

Like the National Office of Homeland Security, the idea is scary.

Steve Crist reported in these pages earlier that at the recent Jockey Club Round Table discussion on the subject, the industry’s four tote companies were not mentioned, nor invited to speak. They got one line in the preface of the task force report.

Also missing from mention or a speaking role - strangely for a session that dealt with security - was the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau, racing’s security arm for 57 years.

The rationale for ignoring the TRPB presumably was that it is not technologically oriented in a day when technology has created problems for racing. It was from wagering technology that Chris Harn and his two frat brothers crawled forth.

No one in Saratoga actually suggested ditching the TRPB, but the presentation there suggests bypassing it by having parallel organizations, one for technological crooks and one for less sophisticated thugs.

Granted, the TRPB currently lacks sophisticated wagering computer expertise, but that shortcoming can be remedied without setting up another big bucks bureaucracy. Go find the best man available and give him the staff and equipment he needs within the TRPB. Such a move already is underway, and it makes far more sense than two separate security arms. For one thing, there would be unity of effort. But there is another major advantage in expanding and utilizing the TRPB for wagering security.

The TRPB has a sister organization, which operates out of the same offices, shares much of the same personnel, and has access to the files and findings of the TRPB. It is called Standardbred Investigative Services, and it operates on a premise the NTRA ignores: that crime and criminals do not honor breed lines or breed prejudices. The NTRA report tacitly acknowledged that shortcoming early in chapter 1, saying “for purposes of this report, the parimutuel activities described here reflect Thoroughbred racing only.”

Unfortunately criminals, whether technological or petty, do not make that distinction. The NTRA never has been accused of harboring an ecumenical approach to racing. Its focus and its financing have been primarily Thoroughbred, which is understood, but the current proposal is wasteful. The TRPB and SIS boss, Paul Berube, is a member of the Wagering Technology subcommittee, so those organizations presumably will have some role in development of wagering technology security. The fact that they were largely ignored in the Saratoga report indicates that role may be minimal, perhaps because the TRPB presently answers to its parent, the Thoroughbred Racing Associations, and not to NTRA.

The view here is that the TRPB and SIS, properly equipped with technological help, should be the instrument to provide wagering security. TRPB’s mandate reads, “to expose and investigate all activity prejudicial to horse racing, and maintain confidence in the sport of both Thoroughbred and Standardbred racing.” That’s broad enough. Racing already has two organizations of racing commissioners, which is one too many. It doesn’t need two security organizations.

The second issue of interest in all this involves the existing tote companies. Tom Meeker of Churchill Downs recently called the current system “dinosauric” and “pathetic.” Ogden Mills Phipps of The Jockey Club told Daily Racing Form’s Matt Hegarty that he did not think the racing industry needed to own a tote company, but that it needed to tell the tote companies what it wants.

Frank Stronach’s Magna Entertainment has done more than that. Over the weekend it announced it is buying a 30 percent equity and voting interest in AmTote, one of the four major industry suppliers, and that it may increase that share. That either precludes an industry takeover of the four, or is a prelude to one.

Either way, you will hear more of this, sooner rather than later.