The Kentucky Racing Commission voted last month to abolish exactas at the state's tracks.
The New York State Racing and Wagering Board is about to release a report that may call for the prohibition of trifecta wagering.
The chairman of the New Jersey Racing Commission said recently that he would like to ban the trifecta because of "problems of law enforcement created by this type of exotic wager."
Across the country, racing officials are taking a critical look at the types of wagers that have become so popular in the last decade. Even track owners, who profit directly from trifectas and other exotic bets, say they don't like them. In fact, it is hard to find a soul in any segment of the racing industry who is willing to declare: I love trifectas.
Critics of exotic wagering say they are concerned about the integrity of the sport. But in many cases that isn't their real motive. The racing commissioners who rail against trifectas are often engaging in moral posturing designed to camouflage their own professional shortcomings.
There are two standard arguments against exotic wagering. One is purely economic. Race tracks depend on the circulation of money through their betting windows; trifectas take money out of general circulation and put it into the hands of the few. Because so few people win trifectas, tracks are knocking their customers out of action.
The other common objection to trifectas is that their big payoffs encourage dishonesty. The St. Valentine's Day fix that rocked Maryland racing occurred in a triple race. Much of the larceny masterminded by self-confessed race-fixer Tony Ciulla occurred in trifecta events.
The economic arguments against exotic wagering are patently bogus, for race tracks obviously would not offer trifectas if they were not good for business. While they may indeed take some money out of circulation, the exotics lure people to the track who wouldn't come otherwise. Gimmick betting is clearly what the public wants.
One Florida dog track offers its customers a full smorgasbord of betting opportunities: win, place, show, quinella, exacta, trifecta on every race. The track finds that win, place and show betting accounts for about 10 percent of its handle. Trifectas bring in 40 percent of the business. The people's preference is clear enough.
Does the people's preference encourage corruption?Racing's most lawless era was probably the 1920s, when fixes, druggings and ringers abounded -- and all wagering was win, place and show. Crooks will obviously do their betting in the pool that offers the greatest potential return. But the notion that exotic wagering actually creates corruption is based on a rather naive view of human nature.
In my travels to tracks around the country, I would say unhesitatingly that the ones with the most frequent sharp form reversals are Churchill Downs and Keeneland, both in Kentucky, which has never allowed trifectas and has now banned exactas.
Racing officials who criticize exotic bets because they encourage larceny are saying, in essence: The reason for corruption in racing is the public's unwholesome appetite for trifectas, exactas, etc. They are saying that bettors, who are the victims of larceny, are really its cause. This as if the D.C. police department put the blame for muggings on the desire of citizens to walk down the street at night.
The job of racing commissions ought not to be to dictate the sort of bets the public should enjoy, but to supervise the sport so that the public gets a fair shake.
Unfortunately, racing commissioners and other officials rarely attack dishonesty head-on. They ban Butazolidin and Lasix (a simple, cosmetic "solution" to the drug problem) instead of cracking down on the use of illegal narcotics. They denounce trifectas instead of beefing up law enforcement.
Maryland had a little-noticed mini-scandal in a triple race in mid-December. A horse named Rachero woke up at odds of 34 to 1 and finished second, setting up a triple payoff of $12,387. A subsequent urinalysis disclosed that he had been given Pentacozine, a weak narcotic.
The Maryland Racing Commission had already shirked its responsibility to decide what the punishment should be for such an offense. The commissioners tossed that problem into the laps of stewards. When the results of the urinalysis reached them, the stewards gave Rachero's trainer a gentle slap on the wrist, suspending him for 10 days.
Was the existence of the triple to blame for this infraction?Or were the stewards and racing commissioners really at fault?