Saturday snafu snuffs out Meadowlands’ $3 million handle streak

Network issues prevented the possibility of betting over the mark for 13th straight card.

by Debbie Little

Fans watching The Meadowlands’ races last Saturday night (March 9) may have thought they were watching the wrong signal or needed to adjust their sets when the handle for the first four races came back uncharacteristically low.

For example, the third race, which is normally one of the lowest-handling races on a typical Big M 14-race card, only took in $88,946, far less than usual. That number would have been good for many other tracks, but not at the mecca of harness racing.

Following the best year of wagering at The Meadowlands since Jeff Gural took over in 2011, the track picked up where they left off with strong handle performances in 2024.

Through 19 nights of racing this year, the track has bet over $3 million on 16 occasions, including 12 in a row, a streak that was broken last Saturday due to technical difficulties beyond the track’s control.

“My understanding is, it was the hardware failure of a third-party supplier that was responsible for this past Saturday’s tote issues,” said Jason Settlemoir, chief operating officer/general manager at The Meadowlands, who was made aware of the problem shortly after it started.

The Big M was not alone in experiencing issues on Saturday as tracks across the country were also reportedly affected.

“I feel absolutely terrible for Tampa Bay [Downs], you know, on their biggest day to have something like this happen where they had to race the Tampa Bay Derby as a non-wagering event,” Settlemoir said.

“It obviously caused our handle to be off on Saturday as well because the AmTote places were not able to get their wagers in on The Meadowlands and several other racetracks that were racing that evening.”

A joint statement released by AmTote and Roberts Communications Network, published in the Paulick Report on Sunday (March 10), said, in part, “A communications network failure on March 9 resulted in wagering disruptions at numerous racetracks and guest locations operating through the Mid-Atlantic hub of AmTote International…

“The issues were not the result of a tote system failure. Rather, the communications network — both primary and backup — that connects the AmTote Mid-Atlantic hub to other wagering hubs failed. Roberts Communications Network (RCN) provides the communications network that connects AmTote’s Mid-Atlantic hub to all other tote company wagering hubs worldwide. RCN designs and installs the communications network in a manner designed to prevent outages of this type. However, the unprecedented nature of the connectivity outage yesterday, which impacted the third-party providers from which RCN provisions bandwidth, took down both the primary and back-up networks.”

Having no idea of the severity of the issue or how long it would last, Settlemoir started pushing back the first race at The Meadowlands.

“We’ve already pushed back 10 to 15 minutes and we’re pushing back another 10 just to see if maybe, by the grace of God, that they were able to get it back up within that 10 additional minute period and obviously that didn’t happen,” Settlemoir said.

Settlemoir pointed out that wagering is one of several factors that need to be considered when deciding how long they can wait for the start of a race.

“We have Lasix issues, and you have to worry about customers starting to get restless,” he said. “So, we certainly wanted to make sure that we were taking care of our on-track customers and, additionally, those that were out there in the simulcast world that were able to still wager on the product.”

Lost, perhaps, in the technical issues was the fact that The Meadowlands was celebrating International Women’s Day (IWD), a very popular event at the track.

Last year wagering on The Big M’s IWD card went over $4 million.

There are three tote companies that The Meadowlands works with: BetMakers (formerly Sportech), United Tote and AmTote, which is why even though there was an issue on Saturday night, there was still money in the pools.

“We deal with all three of them on a daily basis for being able to transfer the pari-mutuel pool money back and forth so that they get the correct odds and everything like that,” Settlemoir said.

Although the first four races on the card did poorly, the last 10 races averaged nearly $222,000 putting the total handle for the night over $2.6 million.

“You know, they did everything they possibly could on Saturday to try to get things rectified,” Settlemoir said. “I was told that, I guess at about 8, 8:30 on Saturday, that a few of the places were able to start wagering again.”

For several weeks, The Meadowlands has been running a still stating: “In the event of a tote communication failure in a race featuring any guaranteed pool, the guarantee will be canceled and the pool will be based on the money in the pool once the wagering is closed, minus refunds.”

The Big M’s two nightly Pick-4s — races 6-9 and 10-13 — have guaranteed pools of $50,000. On occasion, in the past, there have been guarantees for the Pick-6 and Pick-8 pools, but that only occurs when those pools have not been hit for several days and have built up a large carryover.

According to Settlemoir, the Pick-4 guarantee is partly provided for by the USTA Strategic Wagering program and the still is run to inform bettors of the restrictions connected to the wager.

Thankfully, on Saturday night, things had returned to normal enough that the guarantees were not a problem.

“It’s always a bummer when something like this happens, but at the end of the day, it happens,” Settlemoir said. “Technology is great when it works, but when it fails, it’s not so great. I’m just glad it doesn’t happen routinely.”