In the hour before post time of one of the season’s biggest horse racing events, fans were unable to place bets at any Capital Region Off Track Betting stations throughout the organization’s 16 counties.
On the day of the 134th running of the Kentucky Derby, the largest wagering day of the year for OTB, betting machines throughout the region went down for more than 60 minutes, leaving frustrated betting fans fuming in lines and lounges.
“I’m paralyzed, I can’t get my bet in,” said Eric Miller of Voorheesville as he waited at the Guilderland OTB parlor in the Star Plaza, located at Western Avenue and Route 155. “This is the biggest race of the year for me.”
At 5:20 p.m., Miller was among about 35 anxious bettors quietly standing in a line that stretched to the front doors. Some people dialed cellphones and tried to find other connections for their wagers.
About 12 minutes to post before the start of the Kentucky Derby, Mike Scaccia, proprietor of Boulevard Bowl on Erie Boulevard in Schenectady, announced to his patrons that if the system wasn’t up before six minutes to post, he was going to ensure betting machines stayed off through the race start for safety reasons — to avoid a scramble should the system unexpectedly come back up.
According to Capital Region OTB President John Signor, the malfunction was due to a glitch in computers with the organization’s tote company, United Tote. Capital Region OTB contracts with United Tote to process the bets and transmit them to pools at tracks, Signor said.
“This is a very unfortunate occurrence and one that is beyond the control of anyone at Capital OTB,” Signor said.
Signor said Capital Region OTB typically handles approximately $3 million on Kentucky Derby day, covering races from throughout the county. He estimated the company would handle about $2.5 million this year. Signor said about 10 percent of the money bet through OTB translates to revenue.
“It’s the biggest day of the year for us,” he said. “It’s generally the biggest day of the year for everyone.”
Signor could not estimate how much revenue was lost because of the malfunction.
Bettors at several locations pointed out that the period leading up to post time is typically when odds are refined and racing fans will place their bets. A number of disgusted fans at various locations walked away while more casual fans arrived but didn’t bother to stand in line.
“I can’t imagine how much racetracks and the counties are going to lose because of this,” said Joe DeBlaise, a 30-year regular bettor with an OTB telephone account.
At Imperial Racing Center, an unidentified patron said: “You get shut out lots of times, but not like this.”
DeBlaise said he visited three locations in Latham and Schenectady attempting to place a bet leading up to Derby post time only to find lines of similarly frustrated fans.
“They should know this is the biggest wagering race of the year,” said Paul “Tiger” Timco of Altamont, who wanted to bet on the horse Pyro. “I’m not an electrician, but you should have a backup.”
Signor said United Tote contracts with Capital Region OTB to serve a region from Columbia County to the Canadian border and over to Madison and Oneida counties. The company also contracts with Vernon Downs Harness Track in Oneida, the Tioga Downs Harness Racetrack and the Finger Lakes Race Track, all of which were affected Saturday, Signor said.
United Tote is a worldwide company, but Signor didn’t know if other markets were affected.
Signor said in the seven years since he’s been with OTB he has never had a problem with United Tote.
“We’re doing everything we can to make sure that this doesn’t happen again,” he said. “Our customers need to feel like they have faith in our system.”
At Imperial Racing Center in downtown Schenectady, customers waited 20 minutes after the conclusion of the race for vouchers that were stuck in three of the four self-service betting machines when the malfunction occurred.
After waiting in line for half an hour at Boulevard Bowl in Schenectady, Scott McGuire of Rotterdam, who said he left work early to ensure he placed a bet on the race, gave up and watched to see if his horses finished in the money, which they didn’t.
“At least I’ve saved my money,” he said.