An unexpected explanation at the beginning of Tuesday’s meeting of the New York State Gaming Commission (NYSGC) further muddied the waters on a pair of wagering incidents over each of the last two summer meets at Saratoga.
In Tuesday’s meeting, NYSGC executive director Robert Williams reviewed details of a confusing incident from August 6, 2023.
Minutes before that day’s sixth race, while the field was approaching the gate, an announcement was made that the remainder of the day’s races scheduled to be run on turf would be moved to the main track.
Three races in the sequence (Races 7, 9, 10) were scheduled to be contested on turf and roughly $1 million in pick five bets had been placed at the moment the public was made aware of the surface change.
Video of the announcement, and subsequent confusion, is available below.
Without question, the timing of the incident was unfortunate, but later well-explained in the context of health and safety concerns.
The impact to multi-race bettors, however, was not necessarily consistent with the expectations laid out in New York's wagering rules.
The NYSGC rules on a surface switch in a multi-race sequence are clear when that surface change is known after betting has closed. While it is presumed bets stand as entered if the change is known before betting is closed, that situation is not directly addressed.
Here are the NYSGC rules (9 NYCRR §§ 4011.25) governing the pick five with a surface change:
"When the condition of a turf course warrants a change of racing surface to a non-turf course in any of the pick-five races, and such change has not been known to the public before the close of wagering for the pick-five pool, then such changed race shall be deemed an all win race for pick-five wagering purposes."
On August 6, 2023, the surface change was known before the start of the sequence.
Williams described the incident in Tuesday’s NYSGC meeting as if the surface change rules were followed as customers would have expected. TIF has bolded and italicized the key remarks from Williams below for emphasis.
“Late notice of the [surface] transfer meant the horseplayers had little time to cancel or change their pick five tickets as the first leg, race six, went off at its scheduled time," Williams said, appearing to read from a prepared text.
"The Commission’s pick five rules require that races changing surfaces after betting pools closed are considered ‘all-win’ races. Accordingly, the first and the third legs remained while legs two, four and five were ‘all-win.’ The late pick five ultimately returned $25 on a $0.25 bet, er, $0.50 bet, excuse me.”
The problem is that betting was still open on the pick five at the time of the announcement, thus the justification for the action to make three races in the sequence an “all-win” appears to be outside the situation governed by the rules and opposite of at least some customers’ expectations.
A video of the NYSGC meeting, queued to begin at the start of Williams’s discussion of the pick five incident, is below.
TIF sought clarification via an NYSGC spokesperson but no reply was received over nearly 23 hours prior to this story being published. If one is provided, this story will be updated.
The August 2023 incident is the second across two summers at Saratoga where a late surface change yielded an unexpected “all-win” situation on a pick five bet. In a July 2022 incident, documented by TIF at the time, the third race in the sequence was taken off the turf roughly five minutes before the start of the pick five.
More than 90 minutes after the pick five wager began, and just minutes before the fourth race of the sequence was run, the public was informed that the previously run third race would be considered an “all-win” for pick five bettors. In this case, it was entirely possible customers discarded tickets that were unexpectedly live given the timing of the announcement.
TIF contacted an NYSGC spokesperson seeking comment or an explanation in July 2022 and were informed the organization was reviewing its inquiry. No further information was received despite several messages to the same NYSGC spokesperson.
CONFIDENCE IS KEY
Video of the incident, posted above, reflects the surface change announcement to the public, initially audible in the background and then blended to the main broadcast on Fox. Williams asserted in Tuesday’s meeting that NYRA officials requested the race be delayed for several minutes, but such a request was denied.
Presumptively, NYRA management recognized that the additional time would benefit customers by giving them time to change pick five tickets out of the belief that if the surface change is known before betting closes, all bets stand as entered.
The NYRA request was denied, according to Williams, because the request was made after two horses had already been loaded to the starting gate and stewards did not want to delay the race for a field of mostly first-time starting juveniles. If the Williams account is accurate, NYRA would have contacted the stewards approximately 10 seconds after the announcement to the public was completed, based on the video capturing the situation in real time.
“Regardless of the timing, the change was made while betting was still open. Customers must be confident in the ability of the racing and wagering regulators to execute the rules as written," said TIF executive director Patrick Cummings. "Confidence is damaged in incidents like these.”
The nationally-televised broadcast, posted above, included a ticker reporting handle in the pick five pool. As the announcement is made, handle plateaus and then begins to drop as customers cognizant of the rules cancel tickets fearing they are about to get stuck with a bet that has fundamentally changed due to the surface switch in three legs.
“We might not always agree with the rules, and we want to change them to protect customers more, but there is a basic expectation that the regulator will follow their own rules and execute them consistently. That did not seem to happen over these two incidents and it should now be clear to the NYSGC that it's time to clarify the rules and ensure a consistent application of them."
“A lack of clarity in wagering rules is chaos for customers. What happens next time, and the time after that?
"Getting an 'all' in the surface switch legs actually did protect the greatest number of customers, but getting that outcome while appearing to skirt the rules that well-informed horseplayers understand is not tenable.
“The NYSGC should make the necessary amendments to the rules and then enforce them as written.”