Let's Bet On It - By Evan Hammonds

If we learned anything from BloodHorse and Breeders’ Cup’s Sports Wagering and Impact on Horse Racing Symposium Sept. 6, it’s that, as an industry, we’ve still got a lot to learn.

The three-hour program, graciously hosted by Keeneland, brought together three expert panels that gave us legislative background, some economic updates, and what the consumers of sports betting might hope to see in the not-too-distant future. All in all, the event provided solid intel.

While having some national guidelines to follow would be ideal, according to Greg Means of the Alpine Group, that’s not expected to happen anytime soon in our nation’s Capitol. Most states, such as New Jersey and Delaware, are forging ahead and creating rules and regulations at the state level. Sound familiar?

While everything in the realm of sports wagering is new and evolving by the day, there are several questions, the biggest being: Where does racing fit into the equation, and how can racetracks and horsemen benefit?

There are many hurdles to clear moving forward—taxes, regulations, and integrity issues to name but a few—but an attainable goal should be for brick-and-mortar racetracks to become host sites for sports betting outlets—a marriage seemingly made in pari-mutuel heaven—and advance deposit wagering platforms playing a role if mobile wagering is a viable option.

Monmouth Park and Meadowlands were both at the ready when the Supreme Court ruling came down, and both have been operating sports wagering since June. It seems their trailblazing model is one worth delving into.

Bill Knauf, vice president of operations for Monmouth Park Racetrack and its Monmouth Park Sports Book by William Hill, saw more than $22 million in sports betting handle since it opened June 14 through July 31, and hasn’t hit peak football season yet.

The handle figure, while sizable, might not be the most important one. During the conference Knauf shared some apple-to-apple results from last year to this year on pari-mutuel handle on Thoroughbred racing at Monmouth Park. The track’s William Hill Sports Bar, a 250-seat sports-viewing palace that once housed a dank cafeteria for racetrackers, saw its handle on racing increase 176% year-over-year during the Labor Day weekend. Better still, its night simulcasting pari-mutuel handle (after 5 p.m.), from June 15 to Sept. 1, increased 21%.

Those figures are encouraging when compared to what we’ve personally seen in the casino environment when there is virtually no crossover from casino games, and even the sports book, over to Thoroughbred racing.

Our casual experience was backed during the symposium by comments from Vic Salerno, president of US Bookmaking and former board chairman and CEO of American Wagering, which operates more than 90 sports books in Nevada.

He has seen wagering in Thoroughbred racing decline from some $800 million to around $250 million in recent years while wagering on all other sports has grown from $2 billion to some $5 billion.

Where casino wagering is against the “house,” sports betting is more closely aligned with racing where players are trying to outwit each other. It’s that mentality that should allow plenty of crossover into betting on racing, which can offer a two-minute adrenaline rush of competitive sport while a player is watching a three-hour game.

Sports wagering is a business measured in the billions. The racing community has been offered a golden opportunity. Now is the time to get out in front of local officials, regulators, and politicians and stress the expertise we already possess. With the talent, infrastructure, and know-how already in place, now is the time to welcome sports wagering into our facilities.

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