HK$30 million in the hole as software glitch stings punters

PUBLISHED : Monday, 08 April, 2013, 3:47pm
UPDATED : Monday, 08 April, 2013, 4:33pm

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“Whoops! Wrong button!” – and there goes HK$30 million … Yesterday’s multi-million dollar betting blunder at Sha Tin might not have been that simple, but a betting software glitch certainly left a searing hole in plenty of punters’ pockets, created an unexpected windfall for others and in the process spawned a host of highly entertaining conspiracy theories online and in the local press.

A tierce (first three horses in order) that would have held HK$7 million ballooned to more than HK$37 million before race nine as the unlikely combination of 10-9-8 was repeatedly bet on from numerous accounts apparently all using the same, clearly faulty, bet staking software.

It meant the single combo of HK$11 chance Masquerader for first, into Rumba King (7.2) and Ka Ying Kid (29) was showing just 1.1 at the jump.

It caused pain for the losing bettors, but for those who took the much easier-to-find winning combination of 6-2-11 – Bundle Of Love (6.3), Cosmic Boom (2.7f) and Silver Grecian (15) – it was the real life equivalent of Monopoly’s old Community Chest card: “Bank error in your favour – collect $200”. In this case it was, “collect HK$21,786” at least seven times what this particular Tierce would have paid, if not for the multiple software malfunctions.

All of the major Hong Kong dailies breathlessly reported the stunning and misplaced plunge –they love this stuff – and internet forums were abuzz with imaginative stories of mischievous computer hackers, vengeful mistresses of government officials meddling with their former lovers bets and even a suicidal gambler emptying his accounts before bidding adieu. Yarns about “Ill-advised and silly mainlanders with too much money” were also a common theme of how the bets came to be placed.

Silly bets happen all the time at Sha Tin and at Happy Valley, and it doesn’t take a gremlin in a computer: lucky numbers and all-ups through stables and jockeys contribute to some crazy parimutuel pools. We cant wait for commingling to occur and not just because it will give Hong Kong’s finest taxi drivers the chance to dictate who starts favourite in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe and Golden Slipper. The weight of Hong Kong money will leave punters in betting shops around the world scratching their heads and redefine the term market mover. Just for perspective, the accidental HK$30 million was a lot in any language (US$3.8 million) and enough to buy a 30-second commercial during the Super Bowl. But it was also less than 2.5 per cent of the total turnover at Sha Tin yesterday: which reached a solid HK$1.3 billion, that’s US$171 million.

Something as simple as two consecutive 2-9 quinellas arriving yesterday in races three and four caused pools later in the day to be distorted and subsequent 2-9 combinations to come up short. The betting software that caused the catastrophic plunge yesterday has got nothing on the bloke whose “system” is to play 2-9 quinellas all day and link them in all-ups. He is just patiently waiting for the meeting when the stars inevitably align and the two and nines come marching in. At least he got a collect.

On face value, the ill-fated HK$30 million tierce was the dumbest bet since punters took the 1,000-1 from UK betting house William Hill about a flying saucer appearing at the Opening Ceremony London Olympics. Actually, that might have been more likely than Masquerader landing in first yesterday.

If someone did want revenge on a race fan, placing all of his or her money on a bet that required Masquerader to win, tying them up and then making them watch him race would be a particularly cruel method of torture. He looks a million bucks and the front-runner even gave a sight for the unfortunate holders of the ill-fated 10-9-8 tickets. Alas, he gave in after straightening and found a way to get beaten as per usual. Had the HK$30million tierce arrived in order, imagine the poor Masquerader fan who stood him out on his ticket with the correct minor place-getters, eagerly awaiting all clear and the expected juicy dividend – only to see 1.1 flash up on the screen. That would have been tough to take.

All of this, of course, was just another day at Sha Tin where Douglas Whyte rides six winners and pulls nine clear in the jockeys’ championship, the equivalent of a cricket test triple century at a crucial stage of a series, or someone scoring 80 in an NBA Play-off game. If only the tierce players had rolled that HK$30 million into a “Dougie all-up”.