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´«ÆæsfMy friend "Spotplay" has been frustrated time and again over the last year or more about playing races by simulcast and watching as his horse, which was 5-1 when he bet it a minute or so before post time, wins and pays 5-2--or less. An article touching on this phenonemenon here this year brought email from players scattered around the country who also feel cheated or who are very leery, seeing the odds change during the running of the race. Using California as an example, let's examine this relatively new happening, with this week's article presenting information and next week's offering some analysis and speculation.
According to the article "The Odds They Are A-Changin'" in the September 2001 issue of the CHRB News & Review, the newlsetter of the California Horse Racing Board, the process of calculating odds was a relatively simple one, with most of the math being done by individual racetracks--meaning that the odds you saw on the tote board when the gate opened were usually the last flash you saw before the race actually started, or at a point where there was one last flash within seconds after the starter pressed his button.
The growth of simulcasting and off-track wagering forced the system to expand. Rather than each simulcast location sending their wagering information to the track hosting live racing, they had to start sending their wagering information to a hub, or central office from which the wagers made at various tracks are collected and then sent on as a combined sum to the track. There are various hubs around the country. The mechanism for this operation is the Inter-Tote System Protocol, or ITSP.
Let me quote directly from the article to explain how ITSP works, since their explanation is straighforward:
"The ITSP allows all totes to communicate with each other. A key feature of the ITSP is that a stop-betting command, when received, takes priority over any other process. Thus, despite the growth in the number of sites that are interconnected, the system is completely controlled. This process is closely monitored at the host track by the state pari-mutuel auditors, the associations's pari-mutuel employees, and the totalizator employees who operate the system, not only in California but also at each hub in North America."
As in other states, the California Horse Racing Board has been asked over and over by players, "What about the odds continuing to change after the race is over?" Note the wording: OVER, not just during. These inquiring fans want to know if something less than legal is going on, and if the odds on a race are changing AFTER the race is OVER, they have every right to suspect something rotten.
The CHRB says there is nothing improper going on.
Digging deeper into the process, the Board says that when the gates open, the "stop-betting" command is instantaneously sent from the host track (where the live racing is) to all connected totalizator hubs, and that signal closes the respective pools. When the pools are closed, this action prevents any more wagers from being accepted.
At this point, the hubs send their total wagering information to the host track. When the host track receives that info, the calculations begin.
Once again, in the words of the CHRB,"However, with dozens of primary hub sites collecting data from hundreds of wagering locations, this process takes time even under ideal conditions. If communications are difficult because of data-line problems, it can take several minutes to resolve those problems and complete the receipt of all wagering data."
Do you find, as I do, that "several minutes" is not within a bettor's comfort zone? Having to wait what works out to be two to three times the time a six furlong race takes to run to see the wagering payoffs is not acceptable. Can you imagine how quick the rate of play would drop on the statewide progressive slot machines used in a number of states if you placed your bet, spun the wheels, and then had to wait even just a full minute before you knew if you scored or not?
The track record of most race tracks over the last ten years clearly shows that they fail miserably at the task of marketing effectively to bring in new, younger players and instill the love of racing that its aging core has. You'd think it would be a priority of the tracks, state racing associations, and tote companies to make sure there are no undue delays or odds that change after the race is over. "Short attention span" in racing translates to "short patience span," and for many, "short credibility span."
You can show me live racing from half a world away but you can't add my wager to the actual betting pool equally as efficiently? If the technology can't keep up, then don't take my money and deliver less than you promise--which is exactly what you do when YOU, Mr. Track Manager, accept my wager on a 4-1 horse that wins and pays 8-5.
There's more. Next week in part 2.