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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


Special to HorseRaceInsider

By Wes Burns for

While the nation’s major professional leagues stand to benefit from betting, horse racing relies on it. Much of horse racing’s future hinges on how the industry approaches betting.

Some of the changes that are either already underway or that need to be considered include the following:

Building sportsbooks at racetracks: Horse racing has been proactive on this front, and it should continue that trend, especially in states that have not yet decided how to regulate sports betting. Sportsbooks at racetracks provide additional revenue, can potentially contribute to purses and attract non-racing fans for cross-selling opportunities.

Introducing fixed-odds betting: Horse racing can reach a wider audience if it embraces fixed odds betting. Doing so requires the support of horsemen’s associations and a willingness to consider alternative funding models, but the concept is gaining traction.

Experimenting with new betting products: The horse racing industry has been slow to innovate beyond the standard win, place, show and exotic bets with high takeouts. The racing industry needs to expand its offerings to include concepts such as exchange betting, in-play betting and futures such as how many wins a jockey will record over the next year.

New Jersey flirted with exchange betting for a time but had to pull the plug after the concept failed to catch on, partially due to lack of interest among bettors (which itself signals room for improvement on the marketing front) and partly due to the industry’s reluctance to embrace change.

The longer the horse racing industry remains dependent on subsidies from casino gambling and sports betting, the greater the risk racetrack and casino operators begin looking for ways to shed themselves of the excess weight.

Likewise, if horse racing revitalizes itself to act as an independent form of entertainment, the likelier it is that other stakeholders view the sport as a value-added partner industry.

Legal sports betting does not have to compete against horse racing. If done right, legal sports betting complements the horse racing industry.

Total New Jersey sports betting handle cleared $1.25 billion that first half-year and reached nearly $3.5 billion the second year.

During that time, total NJ horse racing betting handle saw its first increase since 2015. New Jersey racetracks also held more race days and experienced a boost in attendance in 2019.

To be fair, the growth in horse racing purses is not a purely organic byproduct of sports betting. New Jersey lawmakers passed additional legislation in 2019 to set aside up to $100 million for the horse racing industry.

Even so, the fact remains that the New Jersey horse racing industry saw growth across the board despite the explosive growth in sports betting over that same period.

The UK also demonstrates horse racing and sports betting can coexist quite comfortably. The UK legalized online sports betting in 2005, and the horse racing industry remains healthy to this day. In the UK, horse racing is the second most popular sport to bet on, second only to soccer.

In summary, the horse racing industry must find a way to stand on its own as a viable form of entertainment independent of casino gambling and sports betting.

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