12/10/2003 12:00AM

Overhaul of betting system gains support

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TUCSON, Ariz. - Racing officials and representatives of bet-processing companies pledged their support on Wednesday for a project launched by The Jockey Club to overhaul the country's electronic network that transmits bets and calculates odds.

Officials from the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, the Thoroughbred Racing Associations, and United Tote said in private interviews at the University of Arizona Symposium on Racing that they would cooperate with The Jockey Club effort, details of which were made public on Tuesday.

According to supporters, the project would eliminate the current system of collecting wagering information at local hubs before transmitting it to the track where the live race is taking place. Instead, all bets would immediately be transmitted from wagering sites directly to the live racetrack, as well as to a central database maintained by The Jockey Club.

The overhaul would allow the racing industry to provide better security over the wagering network and to update odds more rapidly, the supporters said. It would also lead to the development of new technologies allowing bettors to wager over cell phones and wireless devices.

Representatives of two additional totalizator companies, Las Vegas Dissemination Co. and AmTote, said that they would support the overhaul despite sketchy details on what it might cost, according to officials who attended a closed-door meeting on Wednesday morning. The meeting was a session of the TRA's longstanding technology committee.

The Jockey Club announced Tuesday that Scientific Games Racing, the largest bet-processing company in North America, had agreed to pursue the overhaul. Jockey Club president Alan Marzelli described the involvement of Scientific Games as a first step in collecting similar pledges from the other bet-processing companies.

In many ways, the support of the bet-processing companies is not entirely surprising. Earlier this year, following recommendations from consultants hired in the wake of last year's Breeders' Cup pick six scandal, several major racing companies - including Churchill Downs, Magna Entertainment, and the New York Racing Association - had vowed to shut out sites from wagering on their signals if the sites did not comply with minimum-security requirements.

Joe Tracy, the chief executive officer of United Tote, said that his company stood behind the effort "one-thousand percent." He said the overhaul would allow United Tote to enhance the security of the network, cut costs of transmitting wagers, provide new business tools to analyze bettors' wagering preferences, and spur the development of new technologies.

"We all seem to know what needs to be done, and we all know that this is the best approach," Tracy said.

Terry Woods, the chief operating officer of United Tote, said the overhaul would not be as costly or as complicated as some people believed.

"I really don't see a whole lot of incremental costs to the tracks," Woods said. Racetracks currently pay anywhere from 0.25 percent to 0.50 percent of handle for bet-processing services.

The overhaul will likely take at least a year, according to racing officials. The Jockey Club plans to submit a business plan for the central database to its board by the end of March, and racetracks and bet-processing companies are then expected to consult with the developers.

Chris Scherf, the president of the TRA, said that racetracks had received very little detail about the overhaul so far. However, he said he was encouraged by comments from Marzelli indicating that racetracks would play a critical role during the development of the business plan.

"The tracks will have input in the process, and from what I know, the process is going to fast-track," Scherf said.

Tim Smith, the chief executive of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, said that the overhaul, if successful, will "go a long way toward achieving the recommendations" of the consultants hired by the NTRA to analyze the industry's betting network. Smith said that the NTRA plans to hire a chief security officer - another recommendation of the consultants - in the next several weeks.