Ohio horse racing not benefitting significantly from sports betting

by Bob Duff

The fact of the matter is that the horsepeople of Ohio aren’t currently reaping major benefits from the arrival of legal and regulated sports betting across the Buckeye State. That being the case, Renee Mancino can’t bring herself to get too upset over the fact, and with good reason.

That’s because harness racing is already benefiting quite impressively from both casino gambling and video lottery terminals operating at the state’s racinos. Through revenue-sharing agreements, Ohio’s government awards three per cent of casino betting and between nine-to-11 per cent of racino earnings to the purse pools for Ohio horse racing.

“It’s been pretty successful,” said Mancino, executive director of the Ohio Harness Horsemen’s Association. “We’ve increased purses every year. We added a second tier to the [Ohio] Sires Stakes and bumped the top tier up to five legs and two finals.”

The proof is in the purse pool. Last September, they staged the richest night in Ohio harness racing history when $3.7 million was paid out on one race card at Caesars Scioto Downs. The Little Brown Jug went for a $1 million purse for the first time in 2023.

Revenue from racinos alone is contributing $10.5 million to the Ohio harness purse pool in 2024, a 28 per cent increase from the previous year.

“We do have good partners in that regard,” Mancino said of the state government’s support of horse racing. “I can’t complain about our relationship.

“We have a very good relationship and we’d like to keep it that way.”

Mancino’s work in helping to grow the sport in Ohio earned her recognition last year as the United States Trotting Association’s President’s Award winner.


Since launching legal and regulated sports betting on Jan. 1, 2023, both retail and online, Ohio has generated more than $10 billion in wagering. 

The most recent available numbers for April of 2024 show that $667 million was wagered over the month. That was a 15.8 per cent month-on-month increase.

Three Ohio harness racing tracks — MGM Northfield Park (BetMGM), Hollywood Gaming (ESPN BET) and Caesars Scioto Downs (Caesars) — are owned by companies that operate sportsbooks in Ohio. Since they offer racing as the main product on these sites, it would only seem natural that they’d want to do their part to keep the sport growing.

“About 99 per cent of sports betting revenue goes to out-of-state companies,” Mancino said.

Ohio horse racing seems to be holding its own in the midst of the new competition for the gambling dollar from sports betting. Latest data from the Ohio State Racing Commission indicated that both live and simulcast handles were showing slight increases over the previous year.

“We are down on live racing this year, but all sources handle is up in all locations,” Mancino said of the numbers so far in 2024. “We still get really good crowds.”

The evidence of the growth in Ohio harness racing can be displayed numerically. Since 2013, Caesars Scioto Downs has seen a 327 per cent increase in handle. At Miami Valley Gaming, handle has jumped 524 per cent since 2014. MVG also saw a 20 per cent uptick in purses last year.


When the sports betting process was getting underway in the Buckeye State, Mancino and the OHHA sought unsuccessfully to garner one of the available sports betting licenses.

Doing well in terms of what they receive from the government on other gambling sources, Mancino is understandably cautious in making further demands to get a piece of the state’s sports betting action. At least not right away.

“Overall, our state legislature is very favorable to harness racing,” Mancino said. She sees that government officials recognize the vast fair circuit operating in Ohio and what that presence means statewide.

“This is a huge agricultural area,” Mancino said.

While she’s comfortable in what the horse people of the Buckeye State are currently receiving from casino and VLT revenue, Mancino isn’t looking to rest on those laurels. The plan at the OHHA is to continue some level of lobbying with the goal of ultimately garnering a piece of the state’s massive sports betting pie.

“We are actively seeking integration,” Mancino said. “And I do think we will get integration.

“I’m pretty happy with where we’re at overall, but we always want to pursue more. It is a continual battle.”