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Best of John G. Brokopp

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Kentucky Derby puts horse racing in gambling spotlight

21 May 2008

The 134th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs Saturday, May 3, served as a reminder of how close the very different worlds of casino entertainment and horse racing have become.

Eleven horse racing states currently have active "racino" operations. Many other states are considering legalizing this unique blend of casino gambling and pari-mutuel wagering under the same roof.

The famous "Run for the Roses" is thoroughbred racing's showcase event in much the same way as the World Series of Poker has evolved into gambling's most high profile attraction.

Picking the Derby winner was THE hot topic of conversation in Las Vegas sports books, and when the starting gate sprang open to send the field of 3-year-olds on their way in the first leg of the Triple Crown, thoroughbred racing once again was king of the sporting world, even if only for a fleeting two minutes.

John Asher, vice president of communications at Churchill Downs, put the Derby into perspective by saying: "There's nothing like being at a Kentucky Derby. If you ask 10 people on the street to name a horse race, I'd be surprised if all 10 didn't say the Kentucky Derby."

Playing slot machines and casino table games is far different from handicapping the races, but because the pursuits share the common thread of gambling, casinos and race tracks have become what can best be described as "strange bedfellows".

Derby Day at Churchill, however, is woven in the very fabric of Americana. The gamble takes a back seat to the pageantry and spectacle, something that the casino gambling industry will likely never be able to emulate.

"We have about 53,000 seats at Churchill, but approximately 156,000 are here for the Kentucky Derby," Asher said. "In addition to the standing room, we have in the neighborhood of 60 to 65,000 people in the infield where every segment of American culture is represented in some fashion."

Is there another major sporting event in the world for which you can purchase a standing room or infield ticket for just $40 and experience an entire day of entertainment? I don't think so.

"Last year, when Calvin Borel won the Derby on Street Sense, I never saw such an emotional outpouring after a race," Asher said. "Twenty-four hours later, Calvin was dining with President Bush and Queen Elizabeth at the White House. That's a long way from the small town in Louisiana where Calvin, a jockey for 25 years, grew up."

If you watched the Kentucky Derby and reflected on the days not so long ago when the only legal state-regulated gambling outside of Nevada took place at America's horse racing tracks, I hope you will remember Asher's words:

"I can't think of a better word to sum up Derby Day and its essence than 'magical'. There's nothing like it."

CASINO NEWS: Blue Chip Casino's new 22-story, 302-room hotel tower, which is scheduled to open late this year, will include a 10,000 sq. ft. spa blu featuring individual lounges for men and women, nine spa treatment rooms, a salon and fitness room. The lounges will have steam rooms, experiential showers and whirlpools highlighted by water walls.

Horseshoe Casino Hammond's Go Green $500,000 Cash & Hybrid Giveaway started Saturday, May 3, and continues every Saturday (excluding May 31) through July 26. A drawing for $1,000 in cash will be held every hour on each promotion day from 10 am until 7 pm. At 8:15 pm one lucky guest will drive away in a luxury hybrid SUV.

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