Computer glitch sits horse players in losing saddle

April 27, 1994|By Janan Hanna and Neil Milbert | Janan Hanna and Neil Milbert,Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO -- Burton Kozak is learning the hard way that it doesn't take long to go from being a winner to a loser in the Electronic Age.

A jubilant Kozak, 64, waltzed into Arlington International Racecourse's off-track betting parlor Sunday holding a handful of computer-generated tickets saying he had hit the trifecta in Saturday's eighth race at Sportsman's Park.

The Glenview stock trader, who is accustomed to making complicated financial transactions by computer, fully expected to collect $5,700 in winnings on his $90 in wagers.

But when Kozak tried to collect, he was told that a computer glitch meant his bet was never placed, and therefore, he actually had won nothing.

He was offered a refund on his original wager, but he refused it. Instead, he demanded his winnings and lodged a formal complaint with the track.

"I want to get paid," said Kozak, displaying his winning tickets at the same Arlington Trackside betting parlor. "If I had gone to a bookmaker or made the bet from Las Vegas, I would have gotten paid."

Kozak was one of hundreds of horseplayers at Arlington's seven off-track betting parlors across the state that were afflicted by faulty technology when Arlington's computerized parimutuel betting system crashed Saturday afternoon.

The computer breakdown made it impossible for the betting parlors to make wagers for Races 5 through 10 during Sportsman's Illinois Red Letter Day.

Sportsman's officials estimated that the breakdown of Arlington's off-track betting network cost the Cicero-based track in lost wagers.

"It's an occupational hazard of the modern era," said Bob Bork, general manager and vice president of Arlington International Racecourse, which owns the Arlington Trackside betting system. From time to time, things break down."

The seven off-track parlors affected by Saturday's computer malfunction are located at the Arlington Heights racecourse, at the Bub City restaurant in Chicago and in Waukegan, Richmond, Rockford, East Moline and Peoria.

Bettors at the parlors during the computer shutdown were simply told they couldn't place bets for the races.

But Kozak and other "early bird" wagers who placed a total of $63,500 in bets earlier in the day were not present to witness the problems. They were holding tickets for races and assumed the bets had been placed.

Those who assumed they had won learned that their bets were voided when they returned Sunday to cash in their tickets.

Those who held losing tickets learned Arlington was issuing refunds as the day went on. That left some horseplayers scrounging in garbage pales for their losing ticket stubs.

On Sunday morning, Jeff Wurm of Schaumburg had tossed $40 in losing ticket stubs in a garbage bin at a local grocery. The same afternoon, he was riffling through the trash to find the torn-up stubs.

"There were people walking into the supermarket staring at me, but I didn't care," said Wurm, 47. "There was money in there. I wasn't going to just give up $40."

Bork said early bird wagers are stored in a computer memory bank until the time of the race, and therefore were never entered when the glitch developed.

"The bets were never made at Sportsman's," Bork said. "(Technically) there were no winners or losers."

Bork said the racecourse has so far made roughly $30,000 in refunds.

For Sportsman's, the computer glitch was costly on a day it considered one its best cards of the year. There were six $75,000 stakes races and four allowance races.

Terry Hart, director of mutuels for Sportsman's, estimated that the track lost $750,000 on bets that would have been made had the system not crashed.

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