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Thursday, November 14, 2002
Pick six going the way of the dinosaur?

By Matt Hegarty
Daily Racing Form

NEW YORK -- Is the pick six going the way of the dinosaur?

Over the past two days, racing commissions in Illinois and in Canada have banned the wager, which has been battered by allegations of manipulation and security gaps in the Breeders' Cup pick six investigation. One offtrack betting company, Nassau Regional in New York, decided last week not to offer the bet to their customers.

The decisions have confounded racetracks in Illinois and Canada, which have to live with decisions made by regulatory agencies and betting companies. But pick six wagering is not as popular in Illinois and Canada as it is in California and New York, where the bet appears to be safe.

Regulatory officials in New York and California said on Wednesday that they had no intention of banning pick six wagering, despite security gaps in the way pick six betting data is transmitted in the totalizator system. Those gaps have yet to be fixed, but the totalizator companies, which process wagers for racetracks and other betting operations, expect to make significant improvements in the next 30 days by upgrading their software at sites across the country.

The Illinois and Canadian commissions are considered to be among the more aggressive racing regulatory agencies.

Officials at the Canadian Pari-Mutuel Agency, which passed a rule on Wednesday banning the pick six, pick four, and superfecta, cited the peculiarity underlying how pick six data is transmitted for its new rule. Ron Nichol, the agency's director of program coordination and national standards, said that until the loophole is fully closed, the ban will not be lifted.

The new rule requires all bets to be "registered on the network host system before the first horse crosses the finish line for each relevant pool."

Data on pick six and pick four bets is not fully transmitted to the host site - the computer system at the track running the live race - until the second-to-last race in the sequence is run. At that time, under rules developed by tote companies to minimize traffic on the network linking tracks, the host system "scans" the computers at other wagering sites for live tickets, and only the data on live tickets is transmitted to the host pool for calculating payouts.

"We had to plug that hole immediately," Nichol said.

Superfecta bets - picking the first four finishers in a race - will also be banned, Nichol said, because complete data on the horses used is not transmitted until after the race is over.

Tote company officials expect to update the computer systems at racetracks across the country so that the scan request is made after each leg of the bet is completed, which will significantly close the window of opportunity for someone to manipulate a ticket. But even when the tote companies implement the update, it will not satisfy the requirements of the rule passed by the Canadian agency, Nichol said.

In Illinois, regulators passed a rule temporarily banning pick six and pick four betting so that they could conduct a review of the tote systems at tracks and OTB's in the state. Walter Dudycz, the executive director of the board, said that until tote companies have satisfied the board that bets are free from manipulation, the ban would stay in place.

Steve Sexton, the president of Arlington Park outside Chicago, where the Breeders' Cup was run on Oct. 26, called the board's decision "premature." The board's decision caught the track by surprise, Sexton said.

"Had they given us a little bit of notice, instead of bringing it up spontaneously at the meeting, then I think we would have had an opportunity to discuss the issues and topics," Sexton said.

At Hawthorne in Cicero, Ill., an $11,000 carryover on a pick six had to be suspended indefinitely because of the ruling. Tom Carey III, the track's director of operations, said the money will be included in the next pick six whenever the ban is lifted.

Carey criticized the commission for failing to communicate its intentions to take up the matter. "This thing is rather arbitrary," Carey said. "And I still have to be informed about what benchmark has to be reached to ensure the integrity of the parimutuel pools."

In California, the California Horse Racing Board is expected to discuss pick six wagering at a meeting on Nov. 21, but no specifics about the discussion have been outlined. Roger Licht, a commissioner on the board, said on Wednesday that he was opposed to banning pick six or pick four betting, saying the market should dictate what wagers are offered.

Pick six handle in California is by far the largest in the country. Last year, betting on the pick six was approximately $100 million, according to Michael Marten, a spokesman for the board.

New York Racing Association executive vice president Bill Nader, when asked if the association had considered banning pick six betting, emphatically said, "No."