Updated on 09/16/2011 8:50AM

Silence is the worst policy


NEW YORK - When Hialeah Park refused to allow betting on its premier Derby prep in 1966 because Buckpasser was so overwhelming a favorite, the race became forever known as the Chicken Flamingo. Similarly, no matter what else is said or done at the annual Symposium on Racing at Tucson, Ariz., next week, this will be the year of the Chicken Symposium.

The cowardice belongs not to the event's organizers, the Race Track Industry Program at the University of Arizona, but to the nation's three totalizator companies. In the wake of the Fix Six scandal, the RTIP scheduled a new session at the Symposium where representatives of Autotote, AmTote, and United Tote initially agreed they would answer questions about tote security and procedures. Adding this session was a smart and responsive move by the RTIP. How could the industry's most important annual forum ignore the splashiest story to hit the business in years?

Then this past week, citing advice of legal counsel, all three companies called RTIP organizers and backed out of the event. It's almost a pity that the symposium organizers are too gracious to keep the forum on the schedule and create a nice photo-opportunity to be commemorated for all time: The tableau could be titled "Tote Companies Respond to the Biggest Crisis in Their History" and consist of three microphones, three water pitchers, and three empty chairs.

The three companies are declining comment on why they will be declining comment. It may well have something to do with a California bettor's filing a class-action lawsuit last week, alleging years of negligence by Autotote, which accounts for 65 percent of the national tote market and is at the eye of the current inquiry. While lawyers will always recommend that you clam up once you've been sued, that does not absolve the tote companies of their responsibility to address current issues and it does not prevent them from answering simple questions.

When responsible companies are parts of disasters, from investor frauds to oil spills, they may spend the next 20 years defending lawsuits but in the meantime they fix their problems and communicate with the public about what they're doing. Autotote has not said much since the story first broke and its president, Brooks Pierce, defended the clearly fraudulent winning ticket and called it "good for racing." It's understandable that Autotote would now want to keep Pierce far away from a microphone, but it's inexcusable for the tote companies to maintain silence while expecting the industry to continue employing them and customers to continue investing their money through the tote systems.

Instead, not a word of regret about what happened has come from Pierce or any other tote official despite a guilty plea from an Autotote employee and irrefutable evidence that at least two pick sixes - and, for all we know, hundreds more - were rigged and bettors were cheated out of money.

It has now been six weeks since the story broke and it's half-past time for some real answers to at least two very simple questions:

o When will "scan" procedures be changed so that multi-race bet combinations will be forwarded before the races are run?

o When will the time between odds updates be reduced from the currently glacial 45-second cycles that make prices change after betting has closed and while races are being run?

Horseplayers have been extremely patient and forgiving amidst this crisis. For the most part they have continued betting at previous levels and have put up with inconvenient early pool-closings, which are supposed to be a temporary measure until the technology is updated.

Players kept the faith because the issue was tackled head-on. Industry groups acted swiftly and diligently in the early days of the story. New York Racing Association officials spotted the problem, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association demanded law-enforcement intervention, and industry task forces were up and running within a week. Now, though, there has been little but silence beyond the cosmetic hiring of Giuliani Partners at an exorbitant cost to oversee a six- to 12-month review.

The industry and its customers deserve better. They are entitled to know exactly what is being done to fix the inadequate security and to modernize the archaic procedures. Instead, they are being given three empty chairs to contemplate at the Chicken Symposium.