Gamblers from all over the East Coast will be converging on Delaware Park this afternoon, and they will be bringing their money in satchels. The carryover jackpot for the track's exotic wager, the Twin Triple, has reached a record $344,424.
Delaware officials estimate that the high-rollers will wager $300,000 or more today, creating the possibility of an astronomical payoff to anybody who correctly picks the one-two-three finishers in the fourth and fifth races. Naturally, the track management loves what is happening. "The Twin Trifecta is very important for us," said General Manager John Mooney. "Last year, it was the best promotion we had. A big carryover even drew a larger crowd than our Jerry Lee Lewis concert."
Yet the success and proliferation of exotic wagers such as the Twin Triple have raised a controversial issue in the racing industry, one sure to generate heated debate and create some ugly confrontations.
Suppose one of the out-of-town high-rollers walks through Delaware's gates with his satchel of money today and is stopped by Mooney and a couple of cops. The general manager says: "I don't want you winning half a million dollars today. I want somebody else to win it. You're barred from the track."
This may sound preposterous, but a similar spectacle has happened elsewhere. It will happen again. And it is legal.
When Sportsman's Park in Chicago started offering its lucrative exotic wager, the Super Bet, a team of gamblers from Philadelphia waited until the jackpot had grown, then made massive wagers for several nights until they collected a payoff of more than $700,000.
When the jackpot started to build again, the Philadelphians reappeared -- but this time track president Billy Johnston ejected them. He told them that he didn't want out-of-towners taking money away from his regular customers. Kenny Brodie, one of the bettors, thought Johnston had an ulterior motive. The large carryover in the Super Bet had been boosting Sportsman's attendance and handle night after night, and the track wanted to keep it from being hit.
The gamblers sued -- and last month they lost. The U.S. Court of Appeals confirmed many previous rulings that have said race tracks are a private domain, and they may exclude anyone for any reason as long as it is not discrimination based on race, creed, color, sex or national origin.
As bizarre and autocratic as Johnston's actions were, they were applauded by many people in the racing industry. "Many tracks feel that they should disallow 'outsiders,' " said Frank DeFrancis, the president of Laurel Race Course. He thought the industry was split 50-50 on the issue.
DeFrancis, however, was adamantly opposed to such exclusions. "As an international lawyer," he said, "I recognize that trade barriers get any country into impossible situations. Once you put them up, you're asking for trouble. Once you start discriminating, where do you stop?"
Indeed, what constitutes an outsider? What constitutes a big bettor? Would a track in Stanton, Del., decide it would take the action of high-rollers from Philadelphia but not from New York? That it was all right to bet $25,000 but not $100,000?
The whole idea is absurd. What is even more absurd is the notion that the gamblers with the big bankrolls can simply walk in and "buy" an exotic wager. If a gambler comes to Delaware today with $100,000 in his satchel to invest in these two rock-bottom claiming races, I would applaud his courage. And I would make a side bet that he doesn't hit the Twin Triple, because the races are both wide open, and it would take $5.1 million to cover all the possible combinations.
The idea of banning selected bettors cuts at the very heart of the sport's integrity. What differentiates parimutuel betting on horse races from most other forms of gambling is the fact that the house is neutral. The track takes its standard cut from all wagers and pays out the remainder; it doesn't care who wins or loses. But when a track decides that it doesn't want certain people to have a fair shot, it has sunk to the level of the sleaziest casino.
Fortunately, the bettors at Delaware don't have to worry. "What they did at Sportsman's Park was absolutely asinine," Mooney said. "I know the representative of the gamblers he barred, and I told him that he's always welcome at Delaware Park."