Monday, January 6, 2014

Harness Racing's Tote Integrity Problems is Actually a Video Integrity Problem

Reprinted with permission of View From the Racetrack Grandstand.

Yes, Virginia, there is a problem with tote integrity when it comes to harness racing; it lies with the video feed.  Unfortunately, the powers to be will deny there is any problem and the tote system is secure.  They will cite the fact windows are shut at the same time all over and when they detect for some reason wagers being made after 'off time', those wagers are returned unaccepted.

Yes, with respect to wagers being accepted, machines are shut down at the same time so no one gets to wager after the race begins.  The problem lies with the video feed provided to simulcast sites.  So maybe instead of calling the issue Tote Integrity, let's call it by the correct technical term, Video Integrity.  Apparently, there is none.

Let's return to the November 29 7th race at Yonkers Raceway as an example.  In that race, the 8-3 Exacta which was going to pay $646 as the field was heading down the stretch to start ended up paying only $87.  How did that happen?  According to HRU, Bill Finley made a case indicating the race was legitimate as the handle is not there to make it worthwhile for chicanery.  Fair enough, but the article doesn't go into detail as to what happened.

I have talked in the past about the mysterious C-Band which is available for purchase by receiving tracks at their option.  While in the past, I talked about this alleged 'C-Band', I have talked to enough people to have the confidence that the C-Ban does indeed exist.  What is the benefit of having a C-Band signal versus a regular transmitted satellite signal, about six seconds which we talked about before.  Those bettors who happen to be at a track/simulcasting facility which has the C-Band signal, get to see six more seconds before the start of the race than someone who wagers at a facility which takes the regular simulcast signal.

So what if some gambler gets to see six more seconds of the start up?  Anyone can be a 'Bell Beater' if they wish, it is the amount of video feed which makes the difference.  Six seconds may not sound like much but it gives those bettors six seconds more to avoid betting on a horse going off-stride, it gives them six seconds more to see who may be staying back or leaving.  Does it matter?  Sometimes it may, sometimes it may not,  The question is do you want to compete against someone who has those extra six seconds or so?

Look at it this way, let's say each horse was a poker hand.  Those wagering at a location with the C-Band signal have the ability to look at each horse's first card and then bet on the horse(s) they want.  Those betting elsewhere see no cards.  Seeing the first card doesn't necessary allow you to pick the winner, but it gives you an edge over the person who doesn't see the first card.  I dare say over the long run, those who get to see the first card will do better than those who don't get to see the first card.

As bad as signal inequity may be, can you imagine how bad things will be with exchange wagering if in-running wagers are accepted and wagers are offered by those who see six seconds more of the race than you do?  You need to wonder if they will be offering odds with 'insider information'.

My problem is not the C-Band signal itself, it is a matter of fairness.  Why do some gamblers get to see the C-Band signal and others get the delayed signal?  If you are a Bell Beater and wager at a facility which doesn't offer the faster signal, you are not playing on a level playing field.  Yes, those who are not a Bell Beater aren't directly impacted unless those who bet at the bell guess right; they can also guess wrong which can benefit the bettor.

One person took an opposite view.  Instead of blaming the C-Band signal, they want to know since the C-Band is more expensive, why don't the other simulcast facilities simply pay for the C-Band signal to put everyone on equal footing?  That would be nice but some of these facilities don't have the budget to purchase the better quality signal for every racetrack.  It was also pointed out to me if the windows were closed six seconds earlier, this becomes a moot issue.

My question is why are there event two signals available out there for each track?  Whether C-Band or traditional satellite feed, there should be one signal available for all horse players.  Everyone should be on equal footing.  As to shutting the windows six seconds earlier, I would agree (or even argue they should be closed earlier either at the old recall pole or when the starter calls for the horses) but it's not going to happen.

Why don't the racing commissions step in to protect the integrity of the game by mandating all simulcast signals receive the same video feed or require tracks to shut their windows six seconds earlier?  Sadly, while racing commissions technically are supposed to protect the wagering public, this point of their mission statement gives way to the interests of horsemen and racetracks.  The moment tracks and horsemen complain these changes will cost tracks and horsemen wagering handle because you run the risk of losing some of the whales wagering which would impact their bottom line.  Racing commissions are not going to do anything which may the bottom line of racetracks and horsemen even if the public be damned.

What is a gambler to do?  If  you are a large gambler, you better be checking with the simulcast facility management whether or not the signal you are seeing is the C-Band or satellite signal.  You should have the right to know if others have an advantage over you.

If you are a recreational gambler, one that doesn't bet at the bell, this inequity probably doesn't matter much to you.  I would still recommend you find out what kind of signal they are receiving because it may come in handy if your horse goes off-stride as you may get a chance to cancel your ticket while may be stuck.

In the meanwhile, while most likely not as dramatic as the Yonkers Exacta, we will continue to see payoffs that seem unusually low.  Gamblers will suspect chicanery when it really is attributable to signal inequity, giving racing a black eye it can avoid.