We've all seen it happen. The race is already being run and the odds are changing; and, too often, it seems, on a horse that gets to the front. Usually, it unfolds something like this: a horse goes into the gate at odds of 5-1. He jumps out on top on an uncontested lead and his odds tumble to 4-1. He hits the top of the stretch, still in front, and his odds drop down to 7-2. He crosses the wire in front…and pays $8.40.
These kinds of races, which occur all the time, don't look right. Players are understandably suspicious that some people are somehow able to bet races well after the horses have left the gate, which would be a huge advantage. The racing industry's response has been to assure horseplayers that nothing is going on. Rather, it's supposed to be a matter of the late money needing time to filter its way into the pools. For instance, if a guy in Iowa bets $2,000 to win a horse in a race at Aqueduct seconds before that race goes off, his odds-changing bet may not show up into the pools for some 30 seconds, or well into the running of a race.
Sorry, but Mike Maloney is no longer buying it. Maloney, a Lexington-based handicapper who says he bets between $6 million and $12 million a year, has come forward with a compelling argument that "past posting" is indeed going on.
"This goes to the very integrity of this game," Maloney said. "You cannot run a gambling game and have this loose a control of the odds, the wagering, when it stops, who's still betting. This is a serious systemic problem within our industry and has to be addressed."
Maloney first publicly revealed his suspicions at the Racetrack Industry Program at the University of Arizona's annual symposium, where he gave documented evidence that proved he was able to bet on a Nov. 25 race at Fair Grounds 57 seconds after the field left the gate.
Maloney, seeing the same sort of late odds drops that all players were seeing, became suspicious and set out to find some proof that this was going on. He more or less stumbled onto the Fair Grounds race. He noticed that he was still able to get a wager in, by mistake, after the race was off. So, he kept betting, and betting. By his estimation, the betting windows did not close until some 57 seconds into the race. And he has the paperwork to prove it.
It should be noted that the price on the winner, Nakayama Kun, was shown as 8-5 throughout the running of the Fair Grounds race and the horse paid off at odds of 7-5.
Maloney also kept records of bets he inadvertently made after the horses left the gate for the first race at Bay Meadows on Sept. 9. He kept listening for the beep that signals that the windows have been closed for that race and said he didn't hear it until at least 25 seconds into the race.
The odds also changed on the winner of this race. Ironically, winner Hard Woman, who came from off the pace, was listed at 7-2 during the running of the race and wound up paying off at odds of 5-1.
Maloney took note of a couple of other races were the odds changed dramatically after the field left the gate, though he did not himself wager on these races after they were off. His list includes the fourth race at Golden Gate on Nov. 22. As winner Badgetts Finale crosses the wire in front, the track announcer states: "Badgetts Finale at 17-1." When the payoffs were posted, Badgetts Finale paid off at odds of 10-1.
"For the integrity and the perception of racing, for odds to be changing at the top of the stretch or at the eighth pole is entirely unacceptable," he said. "For odds to be changing after race has ended, whether it's past posting or something else, is unacceptable."
Infuriated by what he has seen, Maloney has taken his case to any racetrack official or mutuel manager that would listen to him. These were serious allegations he was bringing forth, yet no one would take him seriously.
"Most often it's like you're telling them that you saw a UFO," he said. "That's basically the look you get and the response. They take you as a semi-lunatic."
Maloney doesn't want to come off as paranoid or someone whose mind is filled with conspiracy theories, so he wants to make it clear that he understands that these races are not necessarily an everyday occurrence.
"I won't say it happens a lot, but it happens enough to concern me," he said.
The point is, it shouldn't be happening at all.
Maloney makes a pretty solid case that, in at least some instances, the betting windows definitely stay open a significant amount of time after the race begins. That may be nothing more than a case of the person responsible for shutting down the windows being sloppy. Or it could be something worse.
Either way, there is a perception that the betting process is tainted. You would think the industry would do everything possible to change that, yet it does, basically, nothing.
There's a simple solution out there. For every race run at every track every day, close the betting the instant the first horse goes into the gate. That might mean that some players will get shut out at first, but they will adjust quickly and learn to get their bets in earlier. Inconveniencing a few fans and, perhaps, losing a few dollars in handle, is a small price to pay for cleaning up a problem that needs cleaning up.
"Any inconvenience like that is worth it because I seriously question the integrity of our wagering system," Maloney said. "When have this much money being bet and then have it change hands under such lax security, you are inviting larceny. You are not protecting the public trust that you've been given. In effect, you are violating that trust."
These are not the words of a disgruntled, cynical or broken-down gambler, but a rational person who makes a lot of sense. Hopefully, someone will start listening to him.
Bill Finley is an award-winning racing writer whose work has appeared in the New York Times, USA Today and Sports Illustrated. Contact Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org.