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Best of John G. Brokopp

Gaming Guru

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Readers Share Their Thoughts about Horse Racing

28 May 2005

My column about the sport of horse racing generated a lot of comments and thoughts from readers. Now that the Kentucky Derby 2005 is history and Triple Crown fever is in full bloom, what better time to concentrate one more week on a genre of gambling which, at least in recent years, takes a back seat to casino gambling.

Tom writes: "I think the main reason horse racing has declined is the 17 percent to 25 percent 'vig' (house advantage) you have to pay, compared to about five percent for sports betting. Reduce the horse racing vig to five percent and you will see a lot more participants. Beating 17 to 25 percent vig is virtually impossible, except for pool operators located mainly in Asia which handle millions of dollars."

Reply: The house advantage, or "take out", has to be higher in horse race betting simply because in pari-mutuel wagering a percentage of the money that's wagered is returned to horsemen in the form of purses. In sports betting, the house takes its percentage and returns the rest of the money that's wagered to winning bettors.

Even though Las Vegas handles millions upon millions of dollars on sports betting every year, the teams themselves do not share a cent. Can you imagine what would happen if the barons of the NFL, MLB and NBA ever decided that their sports were entitled to a percentage of that money? You'd see the 'vig' on sports betting go up in a hurry.

Of course, professional sports must distance itself from any connection to betting to maintain integrity. But the fact that everybody knows there's probably more money bet illegally on professional sports in this country than is wagered legally on horse racing makes that position increasingly hypocritical.

Internet sports books which take wagers on horse racing are a major source of concern for the sport. The books themselves are owned and operated out of foreign countries, many of which are located in the Caribbean and Costa Rica. They can offer bettors much better deals in the form of take out and rebates because horse racing doesn't receive a percentage. Their existence occupies a very gray area of the law and the issue will have to be addressed by the United States Congress very soon.

Blaine writes: "I agree with you that lack of coverage has hurt racing...and what about the move of the Breeders' Cup races to ESPN? Not everyone has cable. This move may hurt betting as well as interest in the sport. Is boxing as popular now that it is broadcast only on HBO and pay per view as it was in the 70s and 80s when ABC had live fights every week? Does anybody, except hardcore fans, even know the four (or is it five) heavyweight champions?"

Reply: The Breeders' Cup World Championship Races, which are held in the fall, is a difficult "sell" for the major television networks. The series had a long run on NBC-TV, but the five-hour duration of the show and the fact it was production intense makes it rather unwieldy TV fare. Each race only lasts a couple of minutes and there is lots of time between races, which made it necessary to produce a lot of video "filler" and analysis to the point of overkill.

Restructuring the Breeders' Cup format to stretch the races out over a number of weeks would destroy the spectacle, so I guess the logical compromise was to agree to a contract with ESPN, which has placed an emphasis on horse racing in recent years. If horse racing's leaders market the move efficiently, my guess is it'll still serve the purpose for which it was created, namely giving the sport a fall showcase to complement the spring Triple Crown media blitz.

David writes: "I just finished reading your horse racing article. You have hit the nail on the head. For years horse racing held a virtual monopoly on gambling. This of course leads to gouging and poor customer service. One day the tracks woke up and realized they weren't the only game in town.

Reply: I agree that horse racing took its fan base for granted way too long. It was only after the casino industry proliferated that the tracks were forced to compete for bettors, but in many respects by then it was too late. The casinos placed a high priority on customer service, which was a foreign concept to race tracks.

Horse racing has in some ways been its own worst enemy. The introduction of simulcast wagering from tracks around the country and networks of off track betting outlets where fans do not have to be at the track to place wagers altered the economics of the sport dramatically and it's still trying to recover and adjust.

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