Welcome to this week’s edition of America’s Best Racing’s Main Track. Each week in this space we spotlight the most meaningful story of the past seven days, detailing a story that stands out because of its importance or perhaps the emotional response it generates.
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Usually we cover stories from Monday through Sunday, but for this week, we are going to extend the normal time frame into Monday to cover one of horse racing’s biggest stories in many a year – and it doesn’t even involve horses racing against each other.
The Supreme Court forever changed the wagering landscape in the United States on Monday when it ruled by a 6-3 margin that the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 was unconstitutional.
In doing so, the Supreme Court opened the door for states to adopt legislation that would allow sports wagering and end horse racing’s reign as the lone option for legalized wagering in almost all of the country, with the notable exception of Nevada.
That could spell massive trouble for horse racing or a massive dose of relief in the next few years, explaining why Monday will be remembered as a momentous day in some shape or form for a beleaguered industry.
As National Thoroughbred Racing Association President and CEO Alex Waldrop said on Monday, “Until today, pari-mutuel wagering on horse racing has been the only legal form of sports wagering available throughout most of the United States at both physical locations and online. Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) unconstitutional and states are free to regulate sports betting as they see fit, our multi-billion-dollar industry must rise to the challenges and seize the opportunities presented by this expansion of sports betting.”
Yes, above all, Las Vegas-style sports wagering will offer a challenge for horse racing in all jurisdictions and it’s one that needs to be met aggressively and intelligently so that the sport can benefit from the billions of dollars that will be tossed into legal wagering pools in the years to come. It’s a time when horse racing cannot afford to passively watch from sidelines. It has to have a seat at the table when laws are enacted in the various states so that it can protect its interests and become a vital part of a new era in gambling, instead of finding itself overwhelmed by the new form of competition.
New Jersey and Monmouth Park, which launched the court case against PAPSA some seven years ago, needs to be the poster child for embracing a different climate for a centuries-old sport.
Monmouth Park may offer one of the most pleasurable days of summer racing in the country, but it has been in a steep decline in recent years. Yet Dennis Drazin, the Chairman and CEO of Darby Development, the group that operates Monmouth on behalf of its horsemen, saw sports wagering as a life preserver and doggedly latched onto it, incurring about $1 million in legal fees along the way.
On Monday all of that tireless work was rewarded. Going all-in that the Supreme Court would side with them, Monmouth Park spent the last few years preparing for sports betting and as a result, with the help of favorable state legislation, it could be ready to accept bets on baseball and other summer sports in about two weeks.
Illustrating the benefits of Monmouth being a main player in the push to bring to sports wagering to New Jersey – and ultimately the rest of the United States – Drazin said in the Jan. 27 edition of BloodHorse that he expects the Oceanport, N.J., track to handle roughly $1 billion in the first 12 months after entering the sports wagering marketplace.
With a win for the house that can range from 3-6 percent of total wagering, that figure means Monmouth could gross between $30-$60 million from sports betting that will be used to enhance purses and the sagging bottom line. Beyond that, there’s the likelihood that patrons who come to Monmouth to bet on the Giants-Cowboys NFL game will divert some of their dollars to races or innovative wagers that involve horse racing and sports games.
What Monmouth did – and does – can surely serve as a lesson to racetracks from New York to California on how to prosper in the coming years. Rather than play it safe and play a game of wait-and-see, Drazin and his team have already spent about $2 million to build an area for the sportsbook. Aside from being at the forefront of the court case, they were also wise enough to enlist a valuable partner in William Hill, who has a long and successful history in areas of sports betting foreign to horse racing entities, tasks such as setting odds and laying off bets - and they also brokered an advantageous deal for those services.
“This is the culmination of the hard work and dedication of a large group of individuals, all of whom contributed to today’s victory and will undoubtedly contribute to our future success,” Drazin said. “We started this fight back in 2012 and are grateful that the Supreme Court has recognized that we’ve been right all along. We can now shift our focus on commencing sports betting, which will be off and running at Monmouth Park as soon as possible.”
As much as sports betting is now entering the starting gate at Monmouth, it will not be long before New Jersey has company as a legal bookmaker and there will be a new gambling dynamic across the country. There are plenty of question marks about what will transpire in the future, but there’s no doubt that horse racing has been handed an enormous opportunity by the Supreme Court and how it reacts to it will most likely hold the key to its financial well-being in the next decade.
The Also-Eligible List
Here are some of the other noteworthy stories that made for a lively week in the U.S. Thoroughbred racing industry: