by Bill Finley
Fixed odds betting on horse races in New Jersey was unanimously approved by both houses earlier this week and the bill has been sent to Governor Phil Murphy, who is expected to sign it shortly. Once he does, the state’s thoroughbred and standardbred racetracks will be allowed to offer fixed odds betting on their products.
Under fixed odds betting, a player locks in a set price on a horse when making the bet and, unlike with the pari-mutuel system, those odds cannot fluctuate after the wager is made. Introduced about 10 years ago in Australia, the form of betting has been very popular there and is seen as one of the reasons purses on thoroughbred and harness races in that country have exploded in recent years.
“Our ultimate goal is to have what happened in Australia over the last 10 years or so, and after online betting was deregulated, happen here,” said Dallas Baker, the head of international operations for the Australian firm Betmakers, which will operate the fixed odds betting platform for Monmouth. “In that time, the handle has doubled and purse money doubled as well. That’s what we want to see here, too. The opportunity exists in the U.S. to have that happen here and on a quicker time line than 10 years.”
With just 24.6 million residents, $25 billion is wagered annually on racing in Australia or about $15 billion more than what is bet each year on thoroughbred racing alone in the U.S.
Led by track CEO Dennis Drazin, management at the thoroughbred track Monmouth Park has pushed hard for the new form of wagering and is expected to begin offering it on July 17, the date of the track’s marquee race, the $1 million Haskell Stakes.
“We’ve been pushing hard to get it up and running by the Haskell,” Baker said. “That’s always been our goal. We’ve got a lot of work to do, which is great. We’ve always been aiming for the Haskell and we’re all confident that’s when we can begin. It’s go time.”
While Monmouth has reached an agreement with BetMakers to operate their wagering platform, the Meadowlands has yet to come to terms with any such company. Meadowlands owner Jeff Gural has the luxury of watching how the experiment unfolds at Monmouth before making any decisions regarding fixed odds betting.
“We are willing to give it a try,” Gural said. “Most likely we’ll sit back and watch how it does at (Monmouth). They already have a deal in place and we have not made any deals with anybody. We will be in wait-and-see mode. Fundamentally, I am not opposed to it.”
Gural said that fixed odds wagering will need to attract the sports bettor in order to succeed. He believes that could happen.
“If this helps us get the sports bettor to bet on horse racing that would be a big plus,” he said. “There are a lot more sports bettors out there than there are horse bettors. The horse racing bettor is dying off, while the sports bettors are coming out of the woodwork. My guess is that there will be some crossover with the sports bettor. During the pandemic, these guys were betting on ping pong from Korea. If they were willing to bet on that I don’t see why they wouldn’t be willing to bet on horse racing.”
A fixed odds bet more closely resembles a sports bet than the typical pari-mutuel wager and sports bettors may not be comfortable with the idea that you can bet a horse at 10-1 only to have it go off at 5-1.
But it is not clear whether or not American horseplayers will have the same appetite for fixed odds wagering that there is for the bet in Australia. New Jersey’s experiment with the betting exchange Betfair, which is wildly popular in the U.K. and also consists of fixed odds bets, was a bust.
Chris McErlean, vice president of racing for Penn National Gaming, parent company of Freehold Raceway, said that Freehold’s owners are interested in fixed odds bets but have no immediate plans to implement it.
According to www.playnj.com, the takeout on the fixed odds betting will be 12.5 per cent, which is considerably lower than the typical take on pari-mutuel win wagers.
Once the betting debuts, it will only be available to New Jersey residents, but Baker was confident that it could soon spread across the country.
“We have spoken to a lot of other states and they have shown good interest in it,” he said. “But they were waiting to see the bill passed in New Jersey first. We see the roll out going very similar to what happened with PASPA (The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act.) The obvious ones to take fixed odds wagering on horses are the ones that already have sports betting.”