TOTE FAILURES: WHERE IS PLAN B? - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report


By Ray Paulick
For the second time in five days, wagering on a horse race at an American racetrack was allowed to continue until after the contest had been run. The latest incident, which involved Wednesday night's second race at Penn National in Pennsylvania, came on the heels of a tote system failure at Hollywood Park on Saturday.

The Penn National tote failure was similar to the Hollywood Park problem in that a stop-betting signal was not communicated when the race began. United Tote, which has the contract at the Penn National Gaming racetracks, experienced a system-wide failure, allowing on-track and simulcast wagers to continue during and after  the running of the race. The Hollywood Park stop-betting signal from Scientific Games Racing tote equipment was not received by 33 simulcast sites.

John Pricci first wrote about the Penn National problem at Horse Race Insider.

United Tote personnel informed track officials about a communications router failure just as the second race was beginning, Chris McErlean, vice president of racing for Penn National, told the Paulick Report. “The stop betting command which is initiated here did not go out on track or anywhere in the network,” McErlean said. “The pools remained open and were opened well past the finish of the race.”

It was apparent wagers were made after the start of the race, but because United Tote cannot see details on every wager made, track officials were unable to segregate the late bets from those made before the race began, McErlean added. “We discussed with them the various scenarios and the best thing we could do was call the race a no-contest,” he said. “We took the position that the pools had been compromised, and based on the information we had at the time we took the most conservative path and made what we thought was the right decision.”

In Hollywood Park's past-posting incident on Saturday, all  wagers from the 33 sites where the stop-betting signal was not received were thrown out of the pari-mutuel pools and the money refunded to bettors who retained their tickets.

A total of $164,000 was wagered on the race, which McErlean said may have been a little higher than normal but not exceedingly so. All wagers were refunded, though horseplayers were kept in the dark for some time as to why the race was not declared official. Those who had losing bets may have discarded their tickets before the  race was declared “no contest.”

McErlean admitted that the decision was not communicated as well as it should have been across the wagering network. “I will say in terms of communication there was confusion,” he said. “The race was never made official. From a display point of view, the television monitors may have displayed official without tote prices. That was obviously not.”

The Pennsylania Horse Racing Commission and Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau were notified of the problems, McErlean said.

To his knowledge, this was the first time since McErlean joined Penn National Gaming in December 2006 that any of the company's six tracks have experienced this type of problem. “It appears to be either networking or equipment failure involving a communications router ,” McErlean said. “The issue that has to be discussed and talked about is where is the potential safety valve if one system fails or one part fails. What is the backup or Plan B?”

Good question, and one racing regulators must demand from the tote companies that are jeopardizing the integrity of the wagering systems that are the foundation of this game. 

Be sure to vote in today's Daily Paulick Poll asking whether you have confidence in the security of the U.S. pari-mutuel wagering systems.

Copyright © 2009, The Paulick Report

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