LEXINGTON — The Supreme Court’s blockbuster ruling on Monday paving the way for states to conduct gambling on all sorts of sporting events poses an important question about one gambling entity close to home.
Does the ruling help or hurt horse racing?
The early consensus is that there is no consensus. The only sure bet is that no one knows for sure how this will play out; which state legislatures will approve sports gambling and which ones will not; what sort of regulations will be imposed; where the money will go, etc.
Many believe states will watch closely to what happens in New Jersey, the state that filed the successful Supreme Court case and already has laws in place to take advantage of the ruling. In fact, Monmouth Park in Oceanport, N.J., announced Tuesday morning it will open a sports book for sports betting on Memorial Day.
Monmouth is a Thoroughbred racetrack, of course, most famously home of the Haskell Invitational. And most believe that in states where Thoroughbred racing is legal, that’s where the sports betting will begin.
“I think it’s good for horse racing,” said Mike Cameron, a co-host of WLXG-AM 1300’s afternoon sports radio call-in show who also happens to be a horse trainer. “And the main reason is because of a lot of these so-called brick and mortar places are going to start out at the racetrack.”
Churchill Downs recently purchased Presque Isle Downs in Pennsylvania after the state approved online gaming and sports betting. Kip Levin, CEO of the racing television network TVG, released a statement Monday saying the company wants to work with states “to ensure a safe, secure environment for legalized sports betting.”
That doesn’t necessarily mean the revenue will go to horse racing, however. As Ray Paulick, publisher of the Paulick Report, wrote Tuesday, horsemen can only hope new bettors will “cross over to bet on horses. That didn’t work with slot machines, but there are far more similarities between sports bettors and horse players than there are with casino gamblers or slot players.”
Paulick remains skeptical.
“I think it further marginalizes racing in the competitive gambling market, and that’s not good,” he said via email on Tuesday. “It comes down to whether people who think they are experts on sports and bet on that will be attracted to racing. My inclination is to say they won’t.”
In fact, some fear that people who bet on horse racing because it was the only sport on which to make a legal wager, will now abandon it entirely.
A March survey conducted by Blood-Horse, a Thoroughbred industry magazine, contradicted that assumption. Of the 264 bettors surveyed, “only 4 percent said they would bet less on racing if sports betting were legalized in their state.”
“I’ve been a gambler all my life,” Cameron said. “It’s not about what particular things I’m betting on, it’s the fact that I just bet. It’s action. I think they made that same argument when they came up with the (state) lottery.”
And Thoroughbred racing survived. For all the worries about the state of the sport, Keeneland continues to attract strong crowds and 157,813 showed up for this year’s Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on a day of record rainfall in Louisville.
“My own take on it is people who bet on racing are going to bet on racing and the same goes for sports,” said Evan Hammonds, Blood-Horse’s managing editor. “If the tracks align themselves with local governments to have sports betting parlors at the track — which is a natural fit — it would benefit racing by bringing in more customers. It will also force tracks to up their game as far as amenities, etc., which is not a problem for Keeneland and Churchill Downs, but is for Ellis, Turfway and other tracks around the country.”
“I don’t see how this can’t help everything,” Cameron said. “It’ll help the state, it’ll help the horse tracks and the horse industry.”