A New York State Gaming Commission (NYSGC) rule concerning Pick 5 wagers and surface switches was ignored on Thursday, July 21 at Saratoga.

Here is NYSGC Rule 4011.25(i):

“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.”

Put simply, if the New York Racing Association moves a race from the turf to the dirt before the first leg of the Pick 5 is contested, per Rule 4011.25(i), everything stays as-is with customer bets on the sequence.

That is not what happened last Thursday at Saratoga. 

Given the surface change on July 21 was made before the close of betting, customers that had already placed Pick 5 bets could cancel their original bet outright or cancel the original bet and place a new bet knowing that a race in the forthcoming sequence will be run on a different surface than originally planned.

Some that placed their bets early may not have known of the switch at all. Fortunately, a significant portion of handle across racing in America is staked in the final five minutes before the race, and in many cases, the final two minutes.

Still, every customer’s wager and experience matters.

Protections for customers do exist, like those outlined in Rule 4011.25(i). If a massive storm comes through mid-sequence and requires moving a race from turf to dirt, customers are protected with bets already placed and every horse used in that race of the sequence will be considered a winner.

On July 21, approximately five minutes before the first race at Saratoga, the track announced that the third race was being moved from the turf to the dirt. While the announcement came remarkably close to the close of betting, the change was announced minutes before the opening race. 

The first three races of the day were run, all on the main track. Race 3 was reported by Equibase as starting at 2:16 P.M.

At 2:52 P.M., one minute prior to the start of the fourth race, long-time New York-based correspondent for the Daily Racing Form David Grening reported that customers were only then informed that for purposes of Pick 5 betting, the third race, made official approximately a half-hour earlier, would be treated as an “all win.”

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This was a wholly unanticipated act, and one which had negative financial consequences for players.

Thoroughbred Idea Foundation (TIF) Executive Director Patrick Cummings contacted the New York State Gaming Commission Monday morning in search of an explanation about the decision and the longer-term ramifications of such impromptu decision-making. 

“On behalf of aggrieved horseplayers who were impacted by the decision last Thursday, and all future players of multi-race bets in New York, we felt it necessary to seek clarification from the Gaming Commission about the rules, why a seemingly arbitrary decision was made in the sequence and what customer expectations should be going forward in similar cases,” Cummings said.

“There were bettors that cancelled their initial wagers after the surface switch was announced that would have had winning tickets if they knew all horses in the third leg would be considered winners.

“Other bettors cancelled and placed new bets, using a more focused approach in the third race since it was now on dirt with no expectation the race would be considered an ‘all win.’”

“There is a third group of aggrieved customers – those with paper tickets alive after two legs who lost the third race and discarded their tickets after the race was declared official, holding absolutely no belief those tickets with horses that had not won the third race would be deemed winners later."

Many long-time customers know the rules and the expectations of how bets are treated in similar circumstances. Casual customers might not.

All horseplayers would have been surprised by the arbitrary actions last Thursday.

“Customers expect operators and regulators will follow the wagering rules as written,” said professional horseplayer and author Mike Maloney. “Horseplayers’ confidence is paramount and there is little doubt that some of that was lost as a result of this incident.”

Maloney believes the initial decision to make the third race an “all win” was “likely in response to the initial error of making the surface change so late. Surface change decisions should be made at least 30 minutes prior to a race so players can adjust accordingly.”

Adding to customers’ surprise as it related to the Pick 5, the first Pick 3 bet of the day paid on the correct winners of all three races plus a consolation payout for a late scratch once the race was taken off the turf. The Pick 3 did not pay to all horses.

“So, in one multi-race bet starting in Race 1 and including the race with the surface switch, there was only one winning combination, which also included a consolation payout  due to a late scratch in the third race,” Cummings added.

“In the Pick 5, every horse was considered a winner, but that only became clear to customers well after the third race was official.”

Horseplayer Eric Bialek, a final table participant in the 2020 National Horseplayers’ Championship, was incredulous after the announcement.

“It defies every expectation of horseplayers for a race that was run a half hour earlier to subsequently be declared an all win,” Bialek said. “Without a proper explanation from either the state or NYRA, speculation is all we have and that’s incredibly insufficient.” 

Maloney suggests that updates to rules are necessary to improve the experience for customers.

“Every state racing or gaming commission needs to prioritize a comprehensive review of their wagering rules, some of which have not had an update since the advent of simulcasting.

“Among those improvements should be requirements of operators to better communicate significant changes to bettors. Track operators need to get far more deliberate in communicating such changes – a mere announcement or an update to a crawl at the bottom of the feed is insufficient in today’s betting world.”

Should the NYSGC respond to the TIF letter, an update to this story will be published. Players negatively impacted are encouraged to reach out to TIF using the contact form here.

"This is yet another incident in which the interest of bettors, particularly those customers betting in the exotic pools, have been disregarded. It happened in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf at Del Mar last November and to date, the rules have not yet been updated to ensure their protection," Cummings said.

"TIF will continue to push for rules reform to protect players." 


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