I&rsquo;ve heard people say that in the contest world and elsewhere, the appearance of impropriety is as bad as actual wrongdoing. On one hand, I hate the argument: Of course actual impropriety is much worse. But from a business standpoint, I see the point: In the contest world, if it looks like certain players are receiving an unfair advantage, regardless of the facts, that&rsquo;s going to hurt public confidence when it comes to the question of whether tournaments can be run in a fair manner.I&rsquo;m a believer in having a clear auditing process that can cut through the noise and send a signal loud and clear to players, and despite what you might hear from the Eeyore set in the contest world, there is plenty that tournaments can do to provide a level playing field.Let&rsquo;s look at last Saturday&rsquo;s Hawthorne contest for a prime example of what I&rsquo;m talking about. First, a quick review of the rules. There is no entry fee in Hawthorne&rsquo;s live&#45;bankroll event. There are no mandatory bets. You simply have to bet $500 on any wager offered that day. Highest totals win, with first six finishers earning a berth to the National Horseplayers Championship. Players are allowed two betting cards.Within a couple of days of the results going official, two players made me aware of the same issue with the contest. One of the NHC qualifiers from the tournament was Daniel Mustari Sr. In total, there were seven other tournament entries that had the last name Mustari. Of those entries, seven ended up on zero on the leaderboard, and Daniel Sr. finished fifth with $3,000.This was absolutely something worth looking into. I&rsquo;ll admit that the thought occurred to me that perhaps the Mustari entries were played collusively and combined. This can be easily done by choosing a race and betting different horses in specified amounts across entries. It&rsquo;s the horse racing equivalent of chip dumping in poker, and it&rsquo;s at the root of one of the controversies being investigated in the wake of this year&rsquo;s Breeders&rsquo; Cup Betting Challenge.When Hawthorne contest director John Walsh was asked about any impropriety, he said he hadn&rsquo;t suspected anything untoward. There are two groups of Mustaris who play in his tournament regularly: Daniel Sr. and his son Daniel Jr., both of whom played two cards, and then also Frank Mustari and his son Justin each also played two. The two groups don&rsquo;t sit together and didn&rsquo;t appear to Walsh to be related.Before he even shared with me the specifics of the plays, Walsh had a good handle on the players&rsquo; tendencies, knowing for example that Frank typically made one strong all&#45;in type bet whereas Daniel Sr. liked to spread his action around. When the plays were revealed, this was indeed the case. Frank went all in on a double at Del Mar that got nothing, and in another Del Mar race he bombed out in the exacta and tri while chasing a score. Justin took two shots at Gulfstream West that both missed.Daniel Sr. played eight different tracks throughout the contests across various pools. When his first entry went kaput, he started on his second, which ended up in the money. Daniel Jr. appeared to arrive later in the day. He bet mostly at Del Mar. Both of his entries actually finished with money on them but he was DQ&rsquo;d (thus appearing as zero on the leaderboard) because he didn&rsquo;t bet enough money on either one.After looking at the plays, all of a sudden the suspicious&#45;looking scenario didn&rsquo;t look suspicious at all. The data told a straightforward story: It was clear to see that all the various Mustaris had played on the level. It raises the question, Why aren&rsquo;t all entries that finish in the money audited in a similar manner? Or at least all &ldquo;family&rdquo; entries? Or all entries alive to an outsized bonus? Or even any cards that make failed all&#45;in bets that might reveal hidden partnerships?What I&rsquo;m suggesting might be beyond the scope of the resources that contest directors are dealing with at present, but it shouldn&rsquo;t be. If contests are going to continue to grow and thrive, these are exactly the type of measures that will be needed. Obviously not all examples will be cut and dried and there will be nuances that have be assessed. But most of the time, players breaking the rules will leave footprints, and those playing by the rules will be exonerated, and by distinguishing between them, contest directors can go a long way to restoring public confidence in their games.