Moments before last weekend’s Belmont Stakes, a large crowd gathered as Hot Rod Charlie made the short trek from the paddock onto the track.
There, a host of millennials pulled out their smartphones to capture photos of the 3-year-old son of Oxbow, the 2021 winner of the Louisiana Derby. Though many fans killed time between races on Belmont Day by navigating through the apps on their smartphones, racing fans were unable to access popular sports betting apps from BetMGM, or ones from its main rivals DraftKings, FanDuel, and William Hill.
This year’s Belmont likely marked the final rendition of the historic Triple Crown race before mobile sports betting goes live in New York. With an intense competitive bidding process set to conclude around Christmas Day, online sports wagering is expected to be operational in the Empire State before the Super Bowl.
Ahead of the Belmont, the New York Racing Association on May 28 announced a partnership with BetMGM under which NYRA Bets, the official online wagering platform of the New York Racing Association, will become BetMGM’s first horse racing partner.
“With a partner like BetMGM that is 100% committed to the space, they have an immense amount of marketing experience and experience in the space both domestically and internationally,” NYRA Bets President Tony Allevato told Sports Handle. “It just seemed like a natural fit, we think it’s going to be very beneficial for us.”
Synergies between sports betting and horse racing
As legal sports betting expands, racetracks are brainstorming methods to capitalize on the modern day gold rush. On Haskell Day at Monmouth Park, William Hill has offered a multi-sport parlay that enabled bettors to wager on three races on the card along with a Major League Baseball contest.
Such creativity could help racetracks target a new audience, potentially through a single digital wallet. BetMGM unveiled a horse racing app in April, but it did not set a timetable for when the app will be operational. FanDuel also offers a horse racing app of its own, one that allows horse players to wager on races from 200 tracks around the world. FanDuel partners with Fairmount Park racetrack with the FanDuel Sportsbook & Horse Racing facility in Illinois.
Allevato emphasized that the proliferation of sports betting has prompted racetracks to adjust. Racetracks across the country must find ways to ride the coattails of the sports betting industry to generate new cohorts of fans, he noted. There are two ways that racetracks can respond to the influence of legal sports wagering: The tracks can view it as a threat or the tracks can view it as an opportunity.
“At NYRA we look at it as an opportunity,” Allevato said. “We think it’s the best opportunity to happen in horse racing in the last 50 plus years.”
The new home of the New York Islanders, the $1.5 billion UBS Arena, is scheduled to open in time for the start of the 2020-21 NHL regular season. The arena is located next to Belmont Park.
— NYRA (🗽) (@TheNYRA) May 28, 2021
Fixed odds betting
As New York moves closer to rolling out mobile sports betting, neighboring New Jersey is on the verge of approving a bill on fixed-odds wagering in horse racing. Last month, a bill that would bring fixed odds to several racetracks in the Garden State passed by a 74-0-1 margin in the General Assembly. The bill still needs to pass in the Senate before it lands on Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk for signature.
Unlike parimutuel wagering, fixed-odds betting allows customers to lock into a price hours, or even days, before a race. For instance, Hot Rod Charlie opened with morning-line odds of 7/2 in the Belmont. A customer who wagered on Hot Rod Charlie on a fixed-odds platform would receive those odds at 7/2, not the 9/2 post-time odds.
"We all know through data and facts that younger bettors gravitate toward knowing what their payout is going to be at the time they make their bet."
Future of fixed odds & parimutuel in horse racing:
— Sports Handle (@sports_handle) May 28, 2021
NYRA is intrigued by the possibility of offering creative props on horse racing if fixed-odds betting eventually comes to New York. Though Hot Rod Charlie lost to Belmont favorite Essential Quality by 1 1/4 lengths, the two engaged in a thrilling stretch duel, separated by a mere head during the final furlong of the race. The half-mile pace set by Hot Rod Charlie (46.49 seconds) wound up being the fastest early fraction since Secretariat’s time of 46.2 in 1973.
One potential prop would have given bettors the opportunity to wager on the finishing margin between Essential Quality and Hot Rod Charlie — say, over/under 3.5 lengths.
“We knew it was quick, but that was the game plan,” Hot Rod Charlie part-owner Alex Quoyeser told Sports Handle. “We knew that Essential Quality was going to finish well and he did. We’re just pumped that it was about 10 lengths back to third place. We’re thrilled about the result.”
Quoyeser is one of five former Brown University football players in Boat Racing LLC., a joint owner of the horse. The former Brown teammates created a buzz trackside last Saturday by leading the crowd in boisterous “Let’s Go Chuck” chants. While Quoyeser said NCAA rules prohibited the athletes from betting on sports while in college, he recognizes the enormous appeal for sports betting among young professionals.
Meanwhile, it is unclear if NYRA Bets plans to apply for a mobile sports betting operator license in New York. By law, the New York Gaming Commission is required to issue a Request for Applications (RFA) for the state’s competitive bidding process on mobile sports wagering by July 1. The commission will select a minimum of two platform providers and a minimum of four mobile sports betting operators to offer online sports wagering across the state.
NYRA Bets is considered to be somewhat of a longshot to apply for an operator license.
If NYRA decides to eventually offer fixed odds, Allevato noted that it needs to find the right deal that ensures that the tracks and horsemen are being compensated for the wagers that are taking place. In many respects, racetracks can still capitalize from sports betting without becoming direct licensees of mobile sports betting.
“We need to embrace it, we need to find out a way to be a part of it,” Allevato said.