08/22/2005 11:00PM

Refunded bets raise questions about account-wagering policies

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A snafu affecting account-wagering customers who bet on the fifth race at Del Mar on Monday has raised concerns about how account-wagering companies treat bets that appear to be accepted but have not actually been commingled into national pools.

The incident affected customers of AmericaTab's account-wagering operations, a collection of telephone and Internet betting companies - including BrisBet and Winticket - that all use one hub in Oregon. AmericaTab accepted bets on the fifth race at Del Mar despite the fact that the hub was not communicating with Del Mar's bet-processing system at the time. Although a connection was not established prior to the start of the race, AmericaTab did not notify customers about the miscommunication until well after the fifth race was over, according to a customer and an AmericaTab official.

Thomas Ranftle, an AmericaTab customer in Syracuse, N.Y., said that he placed two pick-four bets beginning with the fifth race at Del Mar, one for $45 and one for $12. His selections on the $12 ticket paid $540, but he said he found out after the card ended at Del Mar that AmericaTab was refunding the two bets and had declared the wagers to be void.

"I'm pretty confused," Ranftle said. "They posted the notice after all the races were over, and yet I've still got a receipt showing it's a valid wager."

According to Todd Bowker, the general manager of AmericaTab, even though AmericaTab's sites advise customers that a bet has been "successfully placed," it does not mean the bets are automatically valid. That is because AmericaTab will typically take bets from customers even if its bet-processing systems are not connected to the racetrack's betting system, in the hopes that the connection will be restored prior to the start of the race and the bets can be transmitted into the pool.

"We'll continue taking bets until we flat-out know we can't establish a connection," Bowker said. "I won't say it happens often, but it does happen infrequently, and more often than not, you can re-establish the connection and everything is fine."

AmericaTab's bet-processing company is AmTote, which provides bet-processing services for all of the Oregon account-wagering companies. The company's president, John Corckran, did not return a telephone call on Tuesday.

Two weeks ago, a similar glitch affected customers of Television Games Network, a competitor to AmericaTab that also has a hub in Oregon. In that case, the affected wagers were placed on two races at Del Mar on Aug. 11. The bets were initially refunded, but several days later, TVG worked out compensation agreements with winning customers based on their potential payouts, according to a TVG spokesman, Chip Tuttle.

Another account-wagering company, Youbet, had a well-publicized snafu regarding wagers placed on the 2003 Wood Memorial, but the company's policy "is not to take any bets if we are not connected to a live system," according to Hud Englehardt, a spokesman for the company. "If the tote system does not recognize the bet, that customer is notified instantly and told to call Youbet customer service."

Bowker said that AmericaTab has not decided whether the company would honor any winning bets that customers thought the system had accepted. "I really don't know much about how it all took place, so I can't comment on that yet," Bowker said. The investigation into the incident will likely take several days, he said.

Ranftle said he was told by an AmericaTab customer service representative that the company would probably honor the winning bets. "They told me that was the direction they were probably going," Ranftle said.