Tom Jicha

Tom Jicha grew up in New York City and worked with John Pricci at the short-lived revival of the New York Daily Mirror. Tom moved to Miami in 1972 for a position in the sports department at the now defunct Miami News.

Tom became the TV critic in 1980 and moved to the South Florida Sun Sentinel in 1988. All the while he has kept his hand in sports, including horse racing. He has covered two Super Bowls, a World Series and the Breedersí Cup at Gulfstream Park.

He's been the Sun Sentinelís horse racing writer since 2007 as a staff member, and continues to this day as a free-lancer.

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Thursday, May 17, 2018


Racing might not benefit from sports betting


The legalization of sports betting this week is being looked upon as a big plus for horse racing. But there are many reasons why the anticipated benefits might not materialize. Meanwhile, the unanticipated entry of Eclipse champion Good Magic has made the Preakness more than a walk in the park for Justify.

Once again the future of racing isn't racing.

The latest savior--remember Sunday racing and slots machines--is sports betting. A Supreme Court decision this week allows individual states to make their own decision about legalization. It is expected New Jersey, which brought the case to the Supremes, could be in business within the next week.

By the end of the year, a half-dozen or more states could be part of the party. Within two or three years, there could be more states with sports betting than not.

The conventional blueprint has wagering on games being limited to casinos, existing pari-mutuels and OTB venues. The latter two are what has given rise to the belief/hope that racing will be a beneficiary. However, there are many reasons why this might be overly optimistic.

The most threatening would be phone and internet wagering. They might not come immediately but they will come. This would eliminate the necessity to visit a track or OTB. So much for attracting new fans.

Also, sports betting and racing might be close cousins, unlike slots and racing, so luring a sports player to make a bet on races while awaiting the outcome of a three-hour game is a reasonable hope. However, this relies on the assumption that there is an infinite amount of disposable income for gambling. So far, this seems more true than not but there has to be a breaking point. If and when this is reached, racing figures to lose more than sports because of their relative popularity.

More to the moment, sports betting is cash intensive. Outside Nevada, an abundance of wagering on games is done via bookmakers on credit. Sure, the bills come due but players are cockeyed optimists. They always figure the next bet will get them out. Cash laid out on a ball game is cash that is not going to be bet on a race.

Estimates vary wildly about how much is bet on sports annually. A generally accepted figure is approximately $150 billion, but this is a product of guesswork tied to efforts to legalize sports betting.

The website Market Watch says about half that amount is probably more realistic. It based its projections on comparisons to Great Britain, where sports betting has been around almost as long as the monarchy. Market Watch took the handle and population of Great Britain and multiplied by five to reflect the different population sizes.

Even this assessment could be on the high side, since wagering on races and games is legal nationwide in Great Britain. Horse racing is legal in only 38 states in the U.S. It is unlikely sports betting will be welcomed where racing isn't.

Moreover, there would be a learning curve in America. Sports betting can be as simple as taking one team to beat another by the spread. But this doesn't generate the entirety of the huge figures being bandied about. Some games have a dozen different ways to bet. Lines are set on each quarter and half as well as on total points for each team and the entire game; which team will score first and last and, in baseball, the combined number of runs, hits and errors.

In Great Britain, punters can also get down on exotics such as election outcomes and the gender of the next royal baby. This isn't allowed in Nevada and won't be elsewhere.

Most importantly, there has been little serious conversation about how much of a taste racing will get from sports betting at tracks and OTB's. Sports betting isn't close to the money tree slots are. According to figures from Nevada, the rake on sports betting is a bit over 5 percent. Slots produce almost double that and never take sick days or vacation. They need only IT people to keep them operating.

Sports wagering demands savvy individuals to create and manage betting lines. Monmouth is already in bed with British firm William Hill and Churchill Downs has announced an agreement to manage the Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City. These are more fingers in the pie.

States will demand their cut and are unlikely to be as initially generous toward racing as they were when slots were introduced. Indeed, the trend is in the opposite direction. It is not inconceivable that some states will balk at directing any sports revenue toward horses.

The major sports leagues have indicated they want a cut, too, even though the Nevada precedent doesn't allow for this. They'll benefit enough from increased interest in their sports at the gate and on TV, where ratings should zoom, increasing rights fees. Unappealing match-ups suddenly will have greatly enhanced interest. An NFL game between Cleveland and Arizona will be just as involving to someone with action as the Patriots against the Eagles.

None of this should be interpreted as a screed against sports betting. I can't wait for it to happen. We just have to be clear-eyed as to how much. if at all, racing will benefit.

Chad does Preakness a solid

I'm rooting for Justify to win the Preakness then go on to capture the Triple Crown in three weeks. But if Justify doesn't get the job done Saturday, I hope Good Magic does.

Chad Brown, America's newest great trainer, isn't one to bring back a horse, let alone a champion, in two weeks. He's doing it in the Preakness.

If Good Magic and Brown were to pull off the upset, he and less prominent trainers might begin to re-examine the overly conservative tactics that I feel is helping to kill the game. Granted, this might be wishful thinking but racing is all about living with hope.

Like I said, I'm all in on Justify. Given his prohibitively short price--he's 1-2 on the morning line and could go lower-- I might just root without betting.

For those who must have action, the key is to get Good Magic out of the exotics. A Justify-Good Magic exacta could pay not much more than even-money. If I were taking a shot, I'd throw in Bravazo, because D. Wayne has a way with the Preakness. The Coach also has Sporting Chance but his last win was at seven furlongs, which I think is close to his best distance.

I also give Marylander Diamond King a shot at hitting the board, since he'll have a home town advantage in a field not overly loaded with talent. Javier in the irons won't hurt.

Here's the question of the day. Would a second Triple Crown in three years diminish the accomplishments of American Pharoah and Justify?


Written by Tom Jicha

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