Lost in the new gambling world

by Trey Nosrac

Once upon a time, racing horses were the only legal gamble in town. Those days are over. The twisted, complex legislation regarding Internet gambling has been bubbling in the background for over a decade. The backstories and side stories of entities trying to get their hands on the golden goose of gambling dollars could fill hard drives. In statehouses and federal courtrooms, a stream of proponents, opponents, opponents who are now ardent proponents, including major sports leagues, have dipped their fingers in the gambling pie.

Less than five years ago, except for Las Vegas and a few outliers, betting on sports in the United States was prohibited under federal law. The earth shifted and the barn door opened in 2018 when the Supreme Court decided this gambling prohibition was against the constitution.

Following the stories of how online gambling went from zero to warp speed in a decade has become a frustrating hobby for a few of us. State after state has hopped onto the gambling wave. We are at thirty and counting, and the trail of each state’s sports gambling legislation is a complex saga, often a somewhat secretive saga. Your loyal correspondent wasted an abnormally large amount of time poring over state sports gambling legislation in search of answers, but my Sherlock Holmes cap is off. The Rubik’s cube of all this legislation is too much for a mortal.

The floodgates are open, the claws are out, the pipers are about to be paid, and the future is unwritten. The ability to wager on virtually every sport means a great deal to many prominent players who see a market worth billions in a new world. Ergo, hordes of minions went to work on regulators and politicos in state capitals far and wide. States legislators faced a difficult task with many outstretched hands for the new gambling money. Lobbyists with cash, perks, questionable statistics, and inflated promises blanketed each state resulting in legislation that may not be advantageous in the long run.

I rarely found much information about horse racing while searching the coverage of legislation on the Internet. Exactly how much influence, if any, individual horse racing programs have in the resulting state legislation is concerning. Perhaps racing linkage to casinos gives some racing folks comfort, but it does not take a Rhodes Scholar to forecast that online gambling has designs on brick-and-mortar casinos.

For an excellent overview of these often-ugly machinations, allow me to refer you to a November 20, 2022, article in the New York Times by Eric Lipton and Kenneth Vogel with the title – Cigars, Booze, Money: How a Lobbying Blitz Made Sports Betting Ubiquitous. The lengthy article shows how the Kansas state legislature was swamped and outgunned. Ironically, the report came to my attention because of a footnote about a new racetrack in Kansas. Quickly the hope that horse racing was in play faded when on further review, it is a car racetrack, part of a vague real estate deal tied to the passage of the legislation. Reading the article about the sports gambling rollout in Kansas brought some uncomfortable legislative sausage-making into play.

The past few years have been dizzying in state legislatures, but the results are that sports gambling will become omnipresent and abundant. Sports like ours are in for the fight of our lives.

In harness horse racing, the state of Ohio is on the upswing, but a new chapter will begin. Governor Mike DeWine signed HB 29 into law, and on Jan. 1, 2023, online sports betting goes live in Buckeye Land. Ohio is a tad late to the dance, but we will be dancing. Predictions are that Ohio may quickly rank number two in the flood of state sports gambling. What this legislation means for the future of our beloved sport of harness racing in Ohio is an open question.

Many of us involved in the sport are confused about what this glut of gambling means. How will harness horse racing be affected?

It seems like yesterday we were adjusting our digital devices to magically watch harness racing from our homes and learning how to wager on ADW accounts (I never understood why racetracks did not cut out these middlemen). Now it looks as if additional intermediaries could handle our wagers. Today, equine owners and gamblers are wrestling with fundamental questions in this world going faster and faster. Now that gambling has changed in Ohio, what does this all mean for my favorite sport?

• We get bombarded every five minutes with advertising for Fan Duel, Caesars, Draft Kings, etc.

• Can and should we use these for wagering on horse racing?

• What kind of horse racing wagers? Futures wagering?

• Besides racetracks, where can we physically place a horse race wager in Ohio’s new world of sports gambling?

• Advertisements scream about “free bets.” Can these bets be used on horse racing?

• There are dozens, yes dozens, of sportsbook apps advertising in Ohio. Does it help our racetracks if we choose one of the specific apps available for wagering?

• Are any of these new apps designed for horse racing?

• Will these apps replace the ADW we use? What is the better value?

• Where is horseracing in the mix of gambling madness?

• Who are the members of our tribe sitting at the table with these sharks?

• What is our leverage?

• How will the tsunami of gambling affect our racing purses, sales, and programs?

• Is there a possibility that online sports wagering will make us stronger?

• Is there a plan?

• What can we do as individuals to strengthen harness racing in this environment?

Confusion makes people uncomfortable. Allow one more question that is more of a suggestion. Every horse racing state could offer an informational primer with directions showing racing participants where we stand and what we can do to navigate this new world of virtually unlimited gambling.