It’s Time For Sportsbooks To Get Creative As Horse Racing Excitement Builds

Written By FairwayJay on June 4, 2018 - Last Updated on January 28, 2022
Horse Racing

There’s a huge buzz around Triple Crown threat Justify as he attempts to complete the sweep at the Belmont Stakes this Saturday.

A Triple Crown might be what the racing industry needs most after more than a decade of fading revenue and popularity. And with legal sports betting soon to expand across the country, sportsbook operators would be wise to get creative with their racing offerings and marketing to potential horseplayers.

A Boost at Belmont and for horse Racing

While both Churchill Downs in Louisville, KY and Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, MD had more than 135,000 fans in attendance for the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, it’s those kinds of race days and events that keep interest in horse racing afloat. The Belmont Stakes and horse racing gets another boost with Justify making a Triple Crown bid, but attendance for the June 9 Belmont Stakes Day will be capped at 90,000 for the safety and comfort of all guests.

Still, horse racing benefits by being in the media spotlight even more thanks to Justify, and the 150th Belmont Stakes is part of one of the biggest racing days of the year with 10 stakes races on the Saturday card including six Grade 1 races. The 3-day Belmont Stakes Racing Festival features 33 races, including 18 stakes, offering $9.4 million in purses.

With both handle and attendance declining much of the past decade, the industry has needed another revenue source other than slot machines from some of the racinos. More fans are expected at race tracks and casinos as sports betting becomes legal in many states other than just Nevada.

Churchill Downs Inc. wasted little time taking a step on this new frontier. The company announced an agreement in May with Golden Nugget Atlantic City to enter online gambling and sports betting in New Jersey.

Reaching a new audience

Nevada’s sports betting handle skyrocketed from $2.6 billion in 2007 to $4.8 billion in 2017. Yet the state’s horse racing handle has plummeted from $596 million in 2007 to $280 million in 2017.

If you listen to some of the sports book directors in Nevada, you’ll hear similar concerns about the takeout rate being too high in horse racing (16% on win-place-show wagers to more than 19% on exotic bets), and new ideas needed to generate more interest from the millennials.

The younger generation needs to be educated on horse racing, and like sports bettors who love betting parlays, sportsbook directors will need to get more creative in offering cross sports bets with horse racing.

The Wynn Sportsbook Director Johnny Avello offered a simple cross-sport parlay prop in mid-May just prior to Justify winning the Preakness and the Vegas Golden Knights still battling the Winnipeg Jets in the NHL Western Conference Finals:

  • “Will Justify win the Triple Crown and the Golden Knights win the Stanley Cup?”

These kinds of offerings and bets involving horse racing and other sporting events need to be considered and implemented.

The odds on the horse racing industry improved with the Supreme Court’s recent decision to legalize sports betting in the United States. While there are still plenty of questions, challenges and opportunities ahead as states move from the paddock to the starting gate and work on legislation to enter the sports betting marketplace, it’s important they break well from the gate like Justify if they plan on running the marathon race and competing in the new market like a well-bred Thoroughbred.

If not, you’ll see many encounter troubled trips and fade down the stretch to the finish.


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FairwayJay is a leading national sports and gaming analyst and is recognized as one of the sports industry's most insightful professionals. Jay has pursued his passions and maintained a pulse on the sports, gaming and poker industries while living in Las Vegas for nearly two decades. He's been a regular featured guest on sports and gaming radio shows, podcasts and produces sports betting and related industry articles and content for various sites and sources.

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