Liz Quill spent four years at UMBC studying the language and civilization of ancient Greece and Rome.
She made trips to Pompeii and the Acropolis and dug through Mycenaean ruins.
So what is this diminutive 31-year-old woman, skilled in scholarly pursuits, doing running the mutuels department at Laurel and Pimlico race courses?
For one thing, she is no stranger to the track. She grew up in Laurel, graduated from Laurel High School and remembers trips to the track with her father to bet on her uncle's horses. She is the niece of Sunshine Calvert, who trained such runners as In Reality, winner of the 1966 Laurel Futurity, and Superbity.
"It's amazing, but the logic, detail and organization you acquire from studying ancient cultures is actually an excellent background for the discipline you need in handling this type of money management," she said. "At one time I wanted to get my master's at Johns Hopkins, but between the conflict of the Preakness and the International, it wasn't possible."
After college, Quill became a part-time teller at now-defunct Freestate Raceway, then worked the message board and eventually became assistant mutuels manager to Jim Mango, who is now senior vice president and general manager at Laurel-Pimlico.
When Mango departed for a similar job at Laurel and a new manager that the late Freestate owner Frank De Francis brought in didn't work out, De Francis gave Quill a one-week trial period to prove she could do the job.
She remembers it as a hectic week. "He [De Francis] even kept a television monitor on his table in the dining room so that he could see if any patrons were being shut out [at the betting windows]," she said.
Quill passed with flying colors and has now been at Laurel-Pimlico running the mutuels department -- with the help of the mother-son team of Mary and Bob Zambreny -- for almost five years.
This week the entire department is the focus of attention. The track will close for four days starting tomorrow for the installation of a new totalisator system, called the Spectrum 2000.
It not only involves installing new machines at approximately 1,200 betting windows at both Laurel and Pimlico, but also requires changing all the equipment and computers in the mutuels offices, installing new phone lines, training about 350 employees in the nuances of the new machines and then hoping all goes well when the track reopens for business on Friday.
It seems like an ideal time to ask Quill a few questions about the new system.
Q: What exactly is the Spectrum 2000 system?
A: It is operated and designed by AmTote International, the same totalisator company that has been furnishing Maryland tracks with pari-mutuel equipment for nearly 60 years.
It replaces the old TIM 300 system, which was installed about 1980 and combined, for the first time, cashing and selling tickets at the same window.
Q: Why is the new system needed?
A: It is the next step in technology that's needed if we are going to deal with the future of the business, like taking bets on full cards of simulcast races from a number of tracks around the country. It allows cross-commingling [betting into three or four pools at one time in different states], cross inter-tracking [combining pools at Laurel-Pimlico with those at harness tracks like Rosecroft-Delmarva] and commingling pools into a newly installed hub at Laurel from potential OTB outlets.
Q: How do the Spectrum machines differ from the current ones?
A: They are smaller and lighter and give tellers more leg room. It took AmTote a couple of years to design them, and they got input from mutuels managers as well as clerks.
The big thing the fans will notice is the change in the ticket. It is square instead of rectangular. It provides additional information, such as the exact time and location where the ticket was purchased. If a fan needs information on how to bet a Triple or exacta, the teller can punch a key and a ticket pops out and gives the fan the answer.
Also, if we want to open a window or close a window, the terminal can immediately generate a price report [on betting that took place through that machine].
The system will give us a lot more information.
Q: Is this going to make a fan's trip to the track more complicated?
A: Initially, it might. First, our fans are going to have to get used to the new tickets. If they have outstanding tickets they still have to cash, they will have to take them to different windows. But we will have signs directing them to those windows.
We are trying to educate our fans. We started putting a letter in the program yesterday explaining why we are making the changes. Then we have visuals placed around the track showing the changes and Kim Goodwin, our in-house television host, is explaining the changes on the monitors.