10/07/2003 11:00PM

Tote officials admit system deficiencies


NEW YORK - Breakdowns in the racing industry's computer-based betting network will continue to occur and threaten the integrity of the sport until the network is overhauled, officials for the country's largest bet-processing company acknowledged Wednesday.

The officials, referencing a network malfunction on Sept. 20 that allowed two dozen sites to take bets on a race at Belmont Park after the race had already started, acknowledged that the computer system is outdated and in need of major repairs. The officials, Bill Huntley and Brooks Pierce, work for Scientific Games Inc., the parent company of Autotote, which has been renamed Scientific Games Racing.

Failures of the totalizator system have become a rising concern since last year's Breeders' Cup pick six scandal, which was masterminded by a former employee of Scientific Games. Since then, prominent racetracks and racing organizations have called for dramatic improvements to the betting network.

Earlier this year, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association released a report recommending an overhaul of the betting network so that a new, more secure system can be developed and easily monitored. Although tote company officials have pledged to cooperate, they have said little publicly about their involvement. Their comments Wednesday were the strongest so far about the system's deficiencies.

According to the tote officials, the Sept. 20 malfunction allowed bettors and mutuel tellers at 26 sites to place wagers while the Belmont race was being run, and, at several sites, up to 15 seconds after the race was already over. The malfunction affected the stop-betting order that was issued from Belmont Park at the time the race started. Scientific Games Racing processes bets for Belmont Park.

Huntley, who is president of the technology unit that works with the racing and lottery divisions of Scientific Games, said on Wednesday that the malfunction was related to a software "patch" that was installed to handle the increasingly heavy traffic on the tote network.

"Like all patches to old technology, it's limited in its effectiveness," Huntley said. "It does work well with a normal failure, but you're dealing with an old system, and you can only wear the same pair of pants so many times."

The betting network contains safeguards that are supposed to automatically shut down betting if sites are disconnected from the network. But Huntley said that the malfunction had prevented the automatic shutdown, allowing the sites to stay open after the race started.

The late bets were added into the parimutuel pools after the race was over, according to Pierce, the president of Scientific Games Racing. That means that payoffs for the Sept. 20 race were lowered by the winning tickets that were placed after the race had started.

The specific impact on payoffs has not yet been determined, according to Bill Nader, a vice president of Belmont. Because some of the late tickets were canceled after the bets had already been added to the system, the calculations for the bets may not have been accurate, meaning some bettors could be owed money. Additionally, the settlement of payments among tracks has become convoluted by the malfunction, Nader said, and will take some time to work out.

Pierce said that Scientific Games is cooperating with investigations into the Sept. 20 malfunction, and he said that any state racing commissions that had questions regarding the placement of late bets could come to the company for help.

In New Jersey, the state racing commission has started an investigation, and Freehold Raceway, a harness track in the state, has barred one of its patrons for attempting to cash a $30 trifecta ticket allegedly placed after the Belmont race was run, according to Mike Vukcevich, the deputy director of the New Jersey Racing Commission.

Investigators in New Jersey have indentified "several hundred dollars" of win bets that were made after the race was over, Vukcevich said. The only large bet the commission has uncovered was the $30 trifecta bet, which would have been worth $10,410.

The New Hampshire Racing Commission is investigating allegations that a Rockingham Park mutuel teller placed bets after the race had been run, according to the executive director of the commission, Paul Kelley.