In the wake of last week's news, there has been a clarion call for improved oversight of electronic betting. Less clear is how it will come about. Thoroughbred racing is notoriously Balkanized, a crazy quilt of publicly traded tote companies, independently run racetracks, 1,100 offtrack betting sites, 42 state commissions (each with its own rules) and the NTRA, a quasi-governing body that is mostly a marketing arm. Last Friday the NTRA announced the formation of a "wagering technology working group." Representatives from the three major track operators—Churchill Downs (which owns Arlington), Magna (Santa Anita and Pimlico) and the New York Racing Association—were on a conference call to discuss ways to improve betting procedures.
Smith says that the NTRA has the bully pulpit, if not the formal authority, to lead the reform. Right now, however, the most pressing need is to restore consumer confidence. Not long ago the NTRA launched an advertising campaign centered on the catch-phrase "Go, baby, go." To win back a raft of handicappers whose worst fears about the system seem to have been confirmed by this apparent scam, horse racing might need a new slogan: "Stay, baby, stay."