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Best of John G. Brokopp

Gaming Guru

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Betting on Horse Races Is in a Class by Itself

4 May 2005

The Kentucky Derby will be run this Saturday at Churchill Downs in Louisville and once again, at least for a day, virtually everyone who doesn't pay attention to the sport at any other time during the year is a horse racing fan.

It also serves as a reminder that betting on horse races is a pastime that's enjoyed by many. In some parts of the country, horse racing and casino-style gambling are even being combined under the same roof in facilities known as "racinos".

One of the great appeals of betting on horse racing is the cerebral input that serious handicappers use to select winners. Computer programs and the availability of advanced statistical information makes pari-mutuel wagering a studious pursuit in contrast to the 100 percent luck factor associated will all casino games with the exception of blackjack and poker.

Whereas the surge in popularity of Texas Hold'em poker is attributed in great part to the mental aspect of playing the game, similar attributes involved with betting on horses have not resulted in attracting new legions of fans.

Long before the popularity of casino gambling as a recreational and leisure-time activity, before there were state-sanctioned lotteries and Internet gambling, before college and pro-sports dominated office-run betting pools, horse racing reigned supreme as the entertainment of choice for people with an inclination to place a bet.

Horse racing was covered in the media as a major sport on a daily basis. Every newspaper had a "beat" reporter in the press box filing stories for every edition. The results of the "Daily Double" were printed on the front page of the afternoon news sections. The first late morning edition was called the "turf" edition because it had the late scratches from tracks around the country.

Betting on horse races on-site was legal in all states with pari-mutuel wagering legislation, but even kids back in horse racing's hey-day knew that all book makers didn't work in binderies. Friendly neighborhood bookies could be easily accessed at corner newsstands, tobacco shops, bars, restaurants and even the work place.

Horse racing was a fact of life in America. It enjoyed a reputation as the nation's No. 1 spectator sport for decades. Racetrack grandstands in major cities were filled to overflowing on weekends and holidays.

So what happened? Competition for America's entertainment (and gambling) dollar, that's what! State lotteries, casinos, the proliferation of motor sports, in-home entertainment outlets such as VCRs and DVDs, the Internet and the expansion of other sports and the duration of their seasons have all helped to push horse racing out of the limelight it once enjoyed.

In some respects, horse racing has also been forced to play second fiddle to sports betting. Despite the fact that wagering on the outcome of athletic events is illegal in every state except Nevada, newspapers everywhere are loaded with odds tables, point spreads, injury reports and other information pertinent to wagering on football, basketball, baseball, etc. The majority of the newspapers' readers are not placing their bets at the sports books of Las Vegas but with their local bookies or on the "Net".

How about pro football season? Can you imagine the number of office pools that go on from week to week, not to mention fantasy leagues? How about "March Madness" in college basketball? Most of the biggest papers in the country devote full pages to the playoff grid for the high profile NCAA tournament, the majority of which wind up taped to office walls for the betting pools.

The fact of the matter is this: Horse racing is legal in many states, yet it is treated like a "red-haired stepchild" as far as the electronic and print media are concerned. With the noteworthy exceptions of the Triple Crown races in the spring and the Breeders' Cup races in the fall, racing receives little big league regional coverage.

Some of horse racing's fall from public grace is the sport's own fault. When television coverage of the other major sports began in earnest in the late 40s – early 50s, the moguls of racing felt they would be "giving their product away" by exposing it for free on the "tube". Generations of young people grew up with baseball on TV while horse racing was left to live audiences of adults.

John G. Brokopp

John G. Brokopp's gaming column appears in Chicago Sun Times (Chicago, Illinois), The Times (Northwest Indiana), The Quad City Times (Davenport, Iowa), The Courier News (Elgin, Illinois), The Gazette (Southwest Suburban Chicago) and Senior Wire (Denver, CO). He's also a regular contributor to The Colorado Gambler, Midwest Gaming & Travel, Casino Player and Strictly Slots. John possesses 28 years of experience as a professional handicapper, publicist, freelance writer, and casino gaming correspondent. He is also the author of two very popular books, The Insider’s Guide to Internet Gambling and Thrifty Gambling.

Books by John G. Brokopp:

> More Books By John G. Brokopp

John G. Brokopp
John G. Brokopp's gaming column appears in Chicago Sun Times (Chicago, Illinois), The Times (Northwest Indiana), The Quad City Times (Davenport, Iowa), The Courier News (Elgin, Illinois), The Gazette (Southwest Suburban Chicago) and Senior Wire (Denver, CO). He's also a regular contributor to The Colorado Gambler, Midwest Gaming & Travel, Casino Player and Strictly Slots. John possesses 28 years of experience as a professional handicapper, publicist, freelance writer, and casino gaming correspondent. He is also the author of two very popular books, The Insider’s Guide to Internet Gambling and Thrifty Gambling.

Books by John G. Brokopp:

> More Books By John G. Brokopp