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Law Conference Panel Sees Opportunities in Technology

One of horse racing’s most reliable old saws is that it’s an industry that resists technology, going back to the 1950s when tracks didn’t want their races televised, or the 1980s when they balked at the idea of off-track betting.

Maintaining that attitude in the 21st century, according to panelists Aug. 15 at the Racing and Gaming Conference at Saratoga, would be the death of the industry. Hosted by Pat Brown’s Tinhorn Productions, the two-day conference features panel discussions on various elements of the racing and gaming worlds. 

During a panel titled “Technology and Gaming: New Challenges, New Solutions,” moderator Michael Pollock, managing director of Spectrum Gaming Group, led a conversation about how Thoroughbred racing might implement new technologies in order to expand business and bring in new customers who have grown up as digital natives.

Paul Williams, CEO of 1/ST Technology (The Stronach Group), said technology could be used to improve the racing product.

“We shouldn’t have to wait 90 seconds to make a race final,” Williams said. “The technology is available so that stewards aren’t necessary. The final odds on a horse can take up to 45 seconds, and The Stronach Group is looking at how we can produce pricing 10 times a second. The result should be final within seconds to live up to consumer expectations in 2023.” 

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As for the current system of human stewards making calls on interference, New York State Senator Joseph Addabbo Jr., in response to a question from the audience, said the New York State legislature might consider establishing requirements for stewards to offer public explanations for decisions.

Later, Addabbo said that in terms of supplying wagering access, the rise of technology does not have to cannibalize “brick and mortar” gaming facilities. “They can be complementary if leveraged together,” he said. “Bricks and mortar operations can offer something that online opportunities can’t.”

Howard Glaser agreed. The global head of government affairs and legislative counsel for Light & Wonder, a company that creates online gambling products, likened gambling experiences to eating at restaurants.

“It’s the difference between ordering from Uber Eats or going to my favorite Italian restaurant,” he said. “These are experiences, not commodities.”  

Of course, the new game in town, sports wagering, has the potential to provide new opportunities for racing or new challenges. William Pascrell IV, general counsel and head of regulatory affairs to the United States market for BetMakers Technology Group, stressed the necessity of horse racing being included in sports betting apps and the value of fixed odds, an opinion on the latter of which Williams dissented.

“There’s a distinctive advantage to pari-mutuel wagering,” Williams said. “We don’t have an interest in the outcome or the result, and we’re unique in that sense.”  

Pascrell countered that entities within racing itself too often take a protectionist approach rather than uniting to embrace change.

“They fight over how to cut up the pie, not how to grow the pie,” said Glaser.

In a later session on the implications of exclusion for racetracks and casinos, Bennett Liebman, government lawyer in residence at Albany Law School, asked John Donnelly of Donnelly Law; Alan Foreman, CEO of the Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association; and Louis Trombetta, executive director of the Florida Gaming Control Commission, to discuss their experiences with excluding horsemen from racetracks.

They discussed in detail the recent case of the New York Racing Association’s exclusion of trainer Bob Baffert from its racetracks, a decision affected by a judge’s decision that because NYRA is regulated by the state, it is essentially a state actor required to offer due process before exclusions. NYRA followed its initial decision with that hearing, and a three-member panel moved to suspend Baffert from NYRA tracks for a year. 

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