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Friday, January 20, 2017

Fair Start Rule (Again) and the Lack of Public Influence on Commissions

In the January 20 edition of Harness Racing Update, Brett Sturman discusses one of my sore points in harness racing, the fair start rule.  More specifically, the lack of a fair start in American racing.

Sturman discusses how the Fair Start rule is an improvement over not having the rule but the ideal situation would be for wagering to cease prior to the field heading to the starting gate.  I agree with him as this would ensure every horseplayer is given a fair chance.  Alas, this will likely never happen due to horsemen and track operators’ objections.

These two parties will object because they fear a drop in handle because the whales like wagering at the last possible seconds to see if they can take advantage of any late clue to a race’s running such as a horse leaving or not, as well as the possibility of a horse going off-stride before the gate.  To be honest, it is a legitimate complaint, assuming these gamblers will not adjust to the 'new normal'.  Quite honestly, the idea of an even playing field with the other gamblers is one the whales/syndicates do not relish as their success is based on having an advantage over John/Jane Q. Public.  Hence, while the proposal to stop wagering before the field heads to the starter is in principle the right thing to do, it will sadly not see the light of day.

At least fans of Canadian racing have an advantage over American punters where there is no such thing as a fair start and it will never happen.  A few years ago in New Jersey there was a proposal for a fair start and while the racing commission agreed to formulate a rule, it took them two years for it to happen (of course, if it was something the tracks wanted, it would have been formulated much quicker), only for the rule change to be rejected at the final hearing despite no objections being raised during the public comment period, no doubt at the urging of horsemen and track operators worrying about the impact to their bottom line, the fear of losing their share of the revenue due to refunding wagers. 

The sad truth is while racing commissions are supposed to protect the public’s interests, their interests lie with horsemen and track operators.  If they are united against a rule change, the racing public has no chance.  This is why each racing commission should have at least one horseplayer on their board to represent the public’s interest.  Would this change things, I don’t know but at least it would be a start.  At least the public's interest would be heard instead of ignored.

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