Imagine you are in Las Vegas and you are playing roulette. Somehow, when the croupier released the little white ball, it bounced out of the wheel. Next thing you know, the croupier is taking your wager away claiming you lost. What would you do?
Fortunately, it really isn't an issue as that is not the way casinos operate. In effect, it's considered as if the game malfunctioned and the bet remains on the table for the next game. Gamblers are happy, and the game goes on.
Now, let's turn to harness racing. The starting gate begins to move 1/4 mile from the race's starting line and the horse you wagered on starts jumping from the moment the car moves. The rest of the field goes on to start as your horse is attempting to do his best imitation of a bronco. By the time the field is released, your horse is closer to the back paddock than the starting line. What do you do?
Well, if you are in Canada, you have the Fair Start Rule which protects you. As long as your horse is two hundred feet or more behind the field when they are released you get your money back. All you need to wait for is the judges who will checking the replay to see if your horse was indeed behind the fair start pole at the start and you get your money back as if the horse was scratched. If your horse was after the recall pole, then you are out of luck, but the assumption is while the horse far behind, he was close enough to get back into contention. Okay, maybe not the best rule, but at least you have some type of protection.
However, if you are betting on a race in the United States, you are out of luck. There are no refunds for a bad acting horse or a horse that goes off stride before the race starts so while your horse may be three hundred feet behind when the field is released, you have a losing ticket. Now, unless you are wagering at the very last second (which depending on your ADW may not be possible), you most likely have a losing wager (unless you can get to a window or your ADW still has wagering open and you can cancel the wager in time). A losing wager despite the fact other people are still wagering on the race. How happy are you going to be if this happens to you?
We all know breaking horses and horses that just refuse the gate happens; it is part of the game. Sooner or later, we will all face this scenario. But it wasn't all this way. A long time ago, there was something called a recall pole which was placed a 1/16th or a mile before the start. If your horse wasn't up at the gate by the time they reached the recall pole, a recall would be ordered and they would try the start a second time. If your horse did the same thing twice, your horse was ordered scratched and they would try the start once again. The bettor was protected.
A funny thing happened when they decided recalls were not fair to the other horses in the race. They got rid of recalls for bad acting horses and they had to think, what do you do about the horse which normally would have caused the recall? The fair thing would have been to scratch the horse and refund the wager. However, tracks were already experiencing declines in handles and the tracks and horsemen decided they didn't want to refund the money because they would need to give up the commissions on the wagers made on the particular horse. So the racing commissions, the very people who allegedly are there to protect the gambler's interests, got rid of the refund option.
The lack of a fair start rule in the United States has to have been one of the most unfair things ever done to harness racing gamblers. Yes, conceivably the horse two hundred feet behind could end up in the money at the end of the race, but the odds of that are probably one in a hundred. Yes, if there was a fair start rule in place and you had a winning ticket, it takes the money out of the mutuel pool and lowers the payoff to the winners, but more times than not, you will have been the one wagerin on the jumping horse than the one holding a winning ticket..
It is also possible that you may end up on the wrong side of the uncompetitive horse once too often, when you had a large bet on a horse, it was your key horse in the last race of the Pick 4, or you decided it is hard enough to beat the horses with the rake to have this happen and you decide to become an ex-harness racing gambler.
Who knows how many people the lack of a fair start rule may have caused. One thing for certain, in the long run, being able to pocket the commission on a non-competitive horse has probably cost the tracks and horsemen more than they made in this scenario. Racing needs to wake up and become more customer friendly. It is time to introduce the fair start in the United States.