Love it or loathe it, the sport of horse racing is a key part of the equine industry across most of the world today. The sport of kings has fans everywhere, and prestigious races like the UK’s Cheltenham Festival, France’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, and the Kentucky Derby in the US attract the best of the best when it comes to horses, riders and celebrity attendance.
Hand in hand with the sport is the practice of real money wagering. In fact, betting on horse races has been around as long as organised races themselves, with the nobility of the 17th and 18th centuries no strangers to having a flutter on the most impressive steeds of the day.
Nowadays, of course, it’s a practice open to adults from all backgrounds, not just the landed gentry, and consequently, it’s become a multi-billion pound global industry in its own right. Mutually beneficial relationships are struck between racecourses, bookmakers, broadcasters and in the case of the US especially, nationwide casinos. Just recently, however, one of the most prominent agreements in US racing seems to have come apart, leaving horse racing fans (aka horse players) in an unfortunate position.
Trouble in Nevada
In the state of Nevada, nationwide horse races from racecourses like Churchill Downs, Santa Anita and Arlington Park are broadcast by racebooks owned and operated by casinos. As you might expect from the home state of Las Vegas, Nevada has been the epicentre of betting on horse races since the practice was properly legislated in the early 20th century. However, this winter an entire season’s worth of meetings from the iconic Churchill Downs racecourse were missing from casinos across the state.
From the date that the season opened at the course on 27th October, right the way through to its final day on 1st December 2019, not a single Churchill Downs race was available to watch or wager on in Nevada.
According to an official statement from Churchill Downs International (CDI), this blackout on its simulcast signal was “due to the lack of an executed agreement” between the course and the Nevada Pari-Mutuel Association (NPMA).
The NPMA is a non-profit corporation set up by all the racebook operators in the state that allows them to negotiate contracts with racecourses and organisations as a single entity, rather than have to arrange multiple agreements with the various organizations involved themselves. It’s no doubt been beneficial over the years since its inception, but as the CDI case shows it also has its drawbacks.
At present, the dispute between the NPMA and Churchill Downs is still to be resolved, but having missed out on the first of the nationwide Kentucky Derby Future Wager pools, horse players in the state are concerned about whether or not they’ll be able to enjoy the 2020 Kentucky Derby, which will open on 2nd May.
It’s not just the horse players who have missed out…
As in many other countries, the horse racing industry in America plays a key role in the success of sports wagering. Due to state changes in legislation however, in 2019 the landscape has changed considerably.
The emergence of online sports betting platforms in other states offering a wide range of wagering options on different sports like basketball, football and hockey has meant that, despite its status as a top performing vertical, horse racing is no longer the only one available to US bettors.
Additionally, although mobile betting on sports and horse races in Nevada is legal, online betting is not. Using casino-organised race books is the only other way for horse players in the state to place wagers on their favourite races, and as a result, revenues have slowly been declining in the state over the last decade.
Horse racing is certainly not going to fail as a betting vertical by any means, but by missing out on a whole season of races at the Churchill Downs racecourse, the industry is going to notice the dent in profits – especially now that there’s increased competition from those newer verticals and more accessible platforms.