The 38th Asian Racing Conference concludes Friday in Cape Town, South Africa. Given South Africa and Zimbabwe’s isolation, the National Horseracing Association of Southern Africa has aligned with the Asian Racing Federation as a member since 1993, and is hosting the conference for the second time. 

Sessions under the banner of “Protecting Racing’s Integrity” headlined Thursday’s agenda. A series of global experts, racing officials focused on the matter and long-time bet monitoring professionals explained the topic with extreme detail. 

Brett Clothier, Head of the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU), an international, independent body managing all items related to integrity (doping and non-doping) for the world’s track and field operations provided detail as to how they keep the sport, which had a number of prominent scandals in the not-too-distant past, clean.

Clothier suggested the organization has focused most of its efforts on intelligence, as opposed to testing. It’s very clear that testing does not work. It’s very hard to catch determined, well-resourced cheats with testing processes that are essentially random.

Almost in passing at the conclusion of his remarks, Clothier highlighted the AIU is also using tech-driven intelligence to identify dramatic changes in an athlete’s performance, outliers that vary from more established patterns of past performance. Details were light, but the concept’s relation to horse racing, and the need to have access to data, is clear.

And so, we ask you…

What would be possible if North American racing’s data was easily available for rigorous quantitative analysis - and to help regulatory bodies - combined with robust intelligence and testing standards? How could our sport be better?

Australian sports writer Leo Schlink provided a wake-up call, albeit unintentionally, as to how betting integrity monitoring should be executed. Schlink cited the need to maintain a “church and state” separation between regulators and operators when it comes to monitoring. The American example is, sadly, nearly the opposite. Operational experts in those matters from Australia, Great Britain and Hong Kong affirmed the call, though they didn’t seem to realize their acknowledgement served as an American indictment.

The Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau, in a description of its own history, explains it is a wholly-owned subsidiary for the Thoroughbred Racing Associations of North America. Per their own website, TRA tracks represent 85% of handle on the continent’s races. The TRPB “operates as a national investigative agency in the horse racing industry. The mandate is to provide integrity analysis and security services for TRA racetrack wagering networks and contracted associations/agencies.”

It was surprising to the panelists, approached after the session, that racing operators in North America effectively owned the betting integrity functions of the sport.

News from the TRPB is sparse. Occasionally, references are made in various American racing news stories to a TRPB investigation, often always involving some questioned betting behavior on the legal, pari-mutuel wagering system. TRPB assessment of the illicit, gray markets - offshore betting operators with little to no reporting requirements - is not a regular topic in any of the rare public comments heard from the organization. 

Beyond the troublesome relationship - that the betting monitoring group is owned by the racetracks, many of which have declining to no incentives to grow or protect the sport’s future (you can read more about that incentive quandary in our recent white paper, “American Racing’s Sustainable Future” - the lack of almost any dialogue about American monitoring of gray market betting on racing is highly disconcerting.

Tom Chignell, the Hong Kong Jockey Club’s (HKJC) Executive Manager, Racing Integrity & Betting Analysis framed the importance: “If you are looking to race fix or match fix, why would you bet with the legal market where it has healthy, established reporting channels?”

“It was made abundantly clear that monitoring racing wagering by following the tote system is essentially like trying to get through law school on a primary school education,” said Thoroughbred Idea Foundation Executive Director Patrick Cummings from Cape Town.

“North America’s troublesome relationship between operators and betting integrity is now properly exposed, even if it was completely unintended by the well-credentialed panelists today. The fact we have heard almost no dialogue on this work in America is downright frightening.

“We, bettors, get frustrated and holler when odds drop from 7-1 to 7-2 some 30 seconds into the race and hear assurances that it’s the final push from tote and the systems delay in communicating, or whatever is the excuse du jour. In reality, as these panelists have exposed, that’s like a toddler crying when a toy is taken away - lots of noise, but no real problem and an ignorant response.

“The state of American betting integrity and monitoring seems woefully behind, and the issue is only exacerbated by the lack of a legal fixed-odds market. As it stands, customers have every reason to seek to play offshore, the most detrimental option to the sustainability of American racing.”

Douglas Robinson, Deputy Chairman of the Asian Racing Federation’s Anti-Illegal Betting Task Force (AIBTF), and Senior Due Diligence and Research Manager for the HKJC added that research from the AIBTF in a forthcoming white paper shows offshore, gray market betting causes far more social harm than regulated, legal markets. A United Nations resolution on the topic is due shortly, as well. 

There is no doubt that these executives, and the others who joined them on the panels from Europe and Australasia seem to have a tremendous grasp of a concept that goes almost completely unspoken amongst North American racing. But the silence can be misleading, as former long-time Australian steward Ray Murrihy, now an integrity consultant to various entities, explained.

“It’s not like you can report crime has gone down simply because you didn’t catch anyone.”

The panelists, including Murrihy, spoke in a matter-of-fact fashion about the extensive integrity measures and successes of other jurisdictions in uncovering numerous high-profile schemes which can otherwise challenge customer confidence. But without question, such measures are executed and exposed with the purpose of maintaining clean sport and reassuring customers that they are being protected.

What a refreshing outlook, and one that is monumentally overdue in North America. While entities such as Equibase and their owners – the TRA and The Jockey Club – continue to protect data behind non-sensical price points and antiquated formats, handle is down nearly 50% adjusted for inflation over the last 16 years.

Continuing these questionable policies only adds to our troubles and will surely hasten our decline.

It’s time for a change.