Updated on 09/18/2011 1:40AM

Symposium: Mobile betting a top goal


TUCSON, Ariz. - Bet-processing companies are increasingly looking to develop ways to allow bettors to use their own devices to hook into the racing industry's wagering network, officials of totalizator companies said Wednesday at the University of Arizona's Symposium on Racing and Gaming in Tucson.

The developments seek to capitalize on the increasing sophistication of cell phones and personal digital assistants, which are becoming more and more ubiquitous. The goal, the officials said, is to allow a horseplayer to use the devices to make wagers and get handicapping information while hooked into the bet-processing network through a secure connection.

The discussion of the use of the devices took place during a two-part panel discussion on emerging issues for the U.S. racing bet-processing network. The officials on the panel included David Haslett, the vice president of operations for Scientific Games Racing; Steve Keech, the new president of AmTote; and Jeff True, the new president of United Tote. Those companies are the three dominant bet-processing outfits in the United States.

The panelists described the U.S. racing market as suffering from a lack of distribution outlets for racing customers to place a bet, as opposed to many foreign racing markets, where offtrack betting locations are far more numerous. In France, for example, there are 150 places per one million people to place a bet, according to Aymeric Verlet, the international development director for the French bet-processing company Pari-Mutuel Urbain. In the U.S., there are two per each million people.

Giving horseplayers access to the tote system through mobile devices could expand those locations exponentially, the panelists said, though such access also raises security concerns. Keech, for one, said that security of the connection is a pressing issue for the bet-processing companies to resolve before the access could become a reality.

In separate comments on an earlier panel featuring officials of foreign bet-processing companies, Paul Cross, the international wagering manager for Tabcorp in Australia, said that fractional betting - allowing horseplayers to bet in any monetary denomination - has grown to 41 percent of the company's handle since the company began allowing the practice in September of this year.

Some U.S. racetracks have begun allowing a limited version of fractional betting by giving horseplayers the option to play dime superfectas and 50-cent pick fours. Cross said that fractional betting at Tabcorp is allowed on trifectas, superfectas, and pick fours, and that horseplayers' embrace of the practice was "astonishing" in just four months. Cross added that handle has not suffered at Tabcorp because of the use of fractional betting.

Panza lays it on the line

Hey, pick six players: Hollywood Park's racing secretary is rooting against you.

Perhaps that's an open secret. But Martin Panza - who is in charge of writing Hollywood's racing programs - happily admitted as much Tuesday afternoon in one of the most entertaining panel discussions in years at the annual symposium.

"My job is to get carryovers," Panza said. "I don't want to make it easy for you. I try to make it as competitive as possible."

Among the strategies, Panza said, is to put an inscrutable 2-year-old maiden race as the last leg in the pick six, despite a barrage of complaints from gamblers who prefer to have maiden races as the first leg so that any live horses on the board can be used on the ticket.

Panza said he sympathizes with gamblers, but at the same time, "In Southern California, we make our money on the pick six," he said. "Our pick six pools are massive."

The panel, called "Conditions and Conditioners," brought together leading Thoroughbred trainer Todd Pletcher, leading Quarter Horse trainer Paul Jones, Maryland Jockey Club racing secretary Georgeanne Hale, and Panza for a wide-ranging discussion about issues facing racing offices and trainers. The discussion was moderated by racing broadcaster Randy Moss, who guided the panelists through topics that included the difficulties facing so-called "supertrainers" like Pletcher and Jones, medication, trainer statistics, scratch policies, detention barns, breeding policies, and even the "most difficult issue a trainer ever faces," according to Pletcher: when to euthanize a catastrophically injured horse.

"Unfortunately, in most of those situations, it's not a close call," Pletcher said. "You have no chance to save the horse."

Internet sanction not seen as ironclad

Earlier this year, the U.S. Senate passed a bill seeking to outlaw Internet gambling, which the racing industry lauded because the bill granted racing an exception to the prohibition.

While racing is protected, gambling experts and racing lobbyists said at a separate panel on Tuesday afternoon that the sport is not out of the woods yet. According to the bill - which was passed in the early-morning hours on the last day that Congress was in session, Sept. 30 - the Department of Treasury has 270 days to write the regulations that will prohibit banks from allowing people to fund gambling accounts, and those rules might have hidden consequences for the racing industry.

"We've got to be careful when they write these regulations to see what they say to make sure that they don't make account wagering more difficult," said Jay Hickey, the president of the American Horse Council, a lobbying group representing all horse breeds in the United States.

In addition, the legislation did not clear up a lingering dispute between the racing industry and the Department of Justice about the legality of interstate wagering. The Department of Justice maintains that racing is violating the federal Wire Act - passed in 1961 - by taking bets across state lines, and racing will have to continue to lobby its case to keep the department from shutting down simulcasting altogether, gambling officials said.

Also, the U.S. government is in a dispute with the World Trade Organization over its gambling law, arising out of a suit filed by Antigua. The WTO ruled that the U.S. cannot stop Antigua from accepting bets from U.S. residents because of racing's exception to Internet gambling, and the U.S. may be forced to adopt a wide array of policies to resolve the dispute. That could include pressure to rescind the exemption, the officials said, which would put a stop to the only segment of the horse racing wagering market to see substantial growth in a decade.