12/11/2002 12:00AM

Pix six fix damage runs deep


TUCSON, Ariz. - Efforts to restore bettors' confidence in parimutuel wagering after the Breeders' Cup pick six scandal will likely stretch over several years, racing officials said Wednesday during a morning panel discussion at the Symposium on Racing.

The panel, called Integrity of Technology, was convened on the same day that the second of three suspects entered a guilty plea in federal court in New York in connection with the pick six case. The officials said that damage to racing's reputation because of the scandal has become apparent in focus groups, surveys, and discussions with bettors over the past two months. Panelists warned, however, that repairing the damage will not be easy or quick.

"This will be going on this year, next year, and the next year," said Greg Avioli, the deputy commissioner of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, in reference to efforts by the NTRA to address the security gaps in the betting network that were exploited by the three men involved in the pick six scandal. "On a long-term basis, we don't know what it all means. But there will be [software and hardware] upgrades, and it will cost money."

Panelists broke little new ground during the session, and Avioli said that he was reserving some of the NTRA's findings until the association makes its annual presentation on Friday morning. Avioli said the NTRA would release details of its focus group studies during that two-hour presentation, which will focus nearly exclusively on the pick six scandal.

Conspicuous by their absence were representatives of the country's three largest bet-processing companies: Autotote, United Tote, and AmTote. Tote officials were scheduled to appear on Wednesday afternoon for a one-hour question-and-answer session, but they backed out last week.

John Walzak, the chief operating officer of the Ontario Harness Horse Association, who moderated the panel, jokingly added at the end of the session Wednesday that any tote official would be welcome to make a statement. Surprisingly, Victor Harrison, an official with United Tote, answered the call, but his comments were not specific.

"The overriding concept is that we want the players to know that when they go to the racetrack, they have the opportunity to win," Harrison said.

He invited racetrack officials to talk to him privately if they wanted specific answers.

The closest the panel got to analyzing the security gaps in the tote system was a presentation by Alan Ahac, the vice president of E-Success, a company that has been hired by Autotote to install monitoring systems that will run parallel to the electronic wagering network. Ahac said that the system, which will be installed at any site where Autotote provides tote services, will receive the same data that the tote network receives and analyze it independently from the tote network. He said the system would be able to catch any tampering by insiders.

Stephen Mitchell, a panelist and vice president of wagering operations for Woodbine in Canada, said that fallout over the pick six scandal has raised bettors' suspicions about bets being placed after races have started, but he called those suspicions "groundless."

Mitchell called on the racetracks to adopt an industry-wide standard on when to shut off betting. In a recent policy change, tracks owned by Churchill Downs are closing their windows several minutes before a race to address fears about past-posting. Aqueduct, operated by the New York Racing Association, is closing all betting at offtrack sites the moment the first horse goes into the gate. No other tracks have put in similar policies.

"Players don't want tracks to adopt different standards," Mitchell said. "It's going to be confusing if we have 10 or 11 tracks doing different things."

Karl Schmitt, the chief operating officer of Churchill Downs, said that Churchill has not reached a conclusion about whether the early close has had a negative effect on handle. At Churchill's recently completed fall meet, handle was down 17 percent. "One thing we do know is that it didn't have a positive impact on handle," Schmitt said.

Panel addresses drug policies

On a separate panel, Dr. Scot Waterman, the executive director of the NTRA's Integrity and Drug-Testing Task Force, said that efforts to design a uniform medication policy will be expanded to include auction horses. The uniform medication policy had previously been drafted to include only racing horses.

"It's a new area that a lot of people felt we needed to be involved in," Waterman said.

Many racing officials had raised concerns this summer about the use of drugs - in particular, anabolic steroids - in sales horses. Waterman said details of the policy had not yet been worked out, and efforts to get states to adopt the medication policy would take at least another year.