New Jersey’s Monmouth Park is on track to become the first course in America to offer fixed-odds horse race wagering.
The only hurdle remaining for this customer-centric horse betting option is gaining authorization by the New Jersey Racing Commission, a decision those involved say is imminent.
“It’s not a question of if, but of when,” said Bill Pascrell III, a trustee at GVC Foundation US and a partner at Princeton Public Affairs Group. “We are so close. It’s about dotting the ‘i’s and crossing the ‘t’s.” Pascrell is a leading expert on online gaming, lottery and sports betting who was directly involved with BetMakers‘ deal with Monmouth Park.
The New Jersey Office of the Attorney General, under which the New Jersey Racing Commission falls, said Friday morning it had “no immediate comment” about the timetable for rendering a decision.
Difference between horse racing bet types
Pascrell serves as legal counsel, advisor, and the main go-between for BetMakers and the state of New Jersey. This includes Gov. Phil Murphy and Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal, and the racing commissions.
Fixed-odds horse wagering is modeled after the betting style for most other sporting events. Bettors retain the odds that stand the moment they bet, rather than the pari-mutuel method usually used in horse racing. In pari-mutuel, the actual odds are finalized the moment the race begins, as the last bet has been placed.
Fixed-odds betting is popular in Australia and Europe, and in fact, connections there are what brought this to the United States. On Feb. 4, Australia-based BetMakers Technology Group and Dennis Drazin, the owner and operator of Monmouth Park Racetrack, entered into a five-year fixed-odds agreement.
“The kiosks are wired,” Pascrell said. “The only next step now is gain authorization and then to program the data.”
Checking the morning line
The first opportunity to bet fixed-odds on a race is when the track sets its “morning line.” That’s a list of horses entered with betting odds set by the track handicapper, usually issued the morning of the race and before wagering begins.
With fixed-odds, odds still shift based on the public’s appetite leading up to the start of the race. But importantly, bettors are locked in with the odds posted when they make a wager, whether they make their bet that morning or afternoon.
Initially, Monmouth will take win, place, and show (first-, second-, third-place) wagering, and perhaps proposition (or prop) bets, such as betting one horse vs. the field, betting only the even- or odd-numbered horses, or match-race betting (one horse vs. another horse), said Dallas Baker, head of international operations for BetMakers.
Where will you find fixed-odds horse racing?
Wagering will be done at kiosks, and eventually will be available through betting apps. Australia-based PointsBet was the first app to partner with BetMakers and Pascrell said all the major operators are showing interest, including Flutter, Evolution, Penn National, Bet365, Kindred and GVC.
Pascrell anticipates that fixed-odds betting will spread nationwide. BetMakers has agreements in place with several other tracks in the US and Canada, namely:
- Colonial Downs, New Kent, Virginia
- Emerald Downs, Auburn, Washington
- Grants Pass Downs, Grants Pass, Oregon
- Lone Star Park, Grand Prairie, Texas
- Fairmount Park, Collinsville, Illinois
- Century Downs, Alberta, Canada
- Century Mile, Edmonton, Canada
- Assiniboia, Winnipeg, Canada
In all these places, the new form of betting will need to clear authorization hurdles.
Why fixed-odds, why now?
Providing transparency to the bettor — mimicking the bet-placing method other major sports use — is designed to attract new and younger bettors to thoroughbred racing. It’s also planned to satisfy frustrated, experienced bettors who often aren’t rewarded for choosing a winning horse based on the morning line, or a few hours before the race.
Such was the case July 15 for the sixth race at Parx, a track in central Pennsylvania. Klaatu, was 15-1 on the morning line. When the gates opened, he had been bet down to 2-1.
He never led but rallied to finish second and paid $3.60 and $2.80. That’s chump change to anyone betting Klaatu across the board that morning at 15-1. Talk about a soggy victory cigar.
Slow and steady wins this race
Andrew Champagne is a long-time horse player who has worked in the marketing and production departments for TVG, Betfair, and the Daily Racing Form.
“Any new betting option will only go as far as how well the track or app educates the bettor on how it works,” Champagne said. “Too many times, I’ve seen new ways to bet introduced and fail because those offering it made explaining it more difficult than it had to be. Fixed-odds betting could be a lot of fun. And if it is, it’s going to take off.”
Fixed-odds betting has been offered for 10 years in Australia — a country of 24.6 million people who now wager $25 billion on horse racing annually, with 84% of that from fixed-odds betting.
Comparatively, the US has a population of 330 million people who wager about $11 billion annually, none of which is done through fixed-odds wagering.
Change takes time
Pascrell played an influential role in other landmark efforts to bring online gaming and sports betting to the US in recent years.
“Bringing fixed-odds betting to America will be transformational,” Pascrell said.
Baker said slow and steady will win this race for BetMakers and the industry.
“We can’t rush the process,” Baker said. “We have to get it right.”
BetMakers blends algorithms and human analysis to set horse racing odds. These suggested odds are then sent to horse tracks where those who set the morning line are given a chance to massage the numbers to their liking based on their customers, trends, and intangibles. Morning lines are set one to two days before the race, or even three days in advance for major races.
“The [current] pari-mutuel model of betting horse racing that has been around for 100 years is cannibalizing itself,” Pascrell said. “Horse racing hasn’t done anything innovative in 20 years. All those players in their 50s, 60s and 70s are aging out. And the 20s, 30s and 40s don’t want to bet that way. They will understand fixed-odds.”
Learning curve for new type of wagering?
Pascrell said educating the public on the value of fixed-odds betting and how to place bets will be a key aspect of the rollout during the next two years.
Monmouth’s VP of Business Operations Bill Knauf said an employee will be assigned to the kiosks and provide customer service to bettors who wish to place fixed-odds bets.
“Racing needs to ensure that it captures the interest of new sports bettors, who are accustomed to fixed-odds when betting on any other sport,” Pascrell said. “Racing needs to ensure that its product is modern and easily understood by these new entrants to the market. Fixed-odds will succeed in the US because BetMakers is committed, knowledgeable and will educate the public on the fun, value and entertainment it offers.”
Some have their doubts
Mike Koblenz is a veteran horse player who follows the sport and tracks year-round. “My interest in playing this type of wagering depends upon the total vigorish given to the house based on the odds in a given race,” Koblenz said. “Would they give me a fair shot?”
Baker said, “We’re still working on the track-bettor payout formulas. We’ve got to get it right. Everyone needs to get a fair whack at the money.”
Meanwhile, Pascrell’s job now is to secure agreements with tracks nationwide. Colonial Downs, located just outside of Richmond, Virginia, is the most recent to sign on.
“Looking at the post times of so many tracks that we can partner with in the US and abroad, there is the chance fixed-odds betting can be offering 8,000 races per week, round-the-clock,” Pascrell said.
This ain’t the NFL
G. Randyl “Randy” Johnson is a longtime horse player and a host of “Triple Clowns,” a weekly online videocast that discusses the horse racing industry in a light-hearted, informational show targeting an audience with an average age of 35.
“I get it, they are trying to make it like a football bet where you get and keep the point spread at the time of the bet,” Johnson said. “But with football, you know both teams are going to show up for the game. In horse racing, there will be scratches. If one horse scratches leading up to an 8-horse race, for example, it can change the entire complexion of the race, and the odds.”
Johnson said there are enough variables horse bettors must consider already
“Adding this option could create betting chaos,” he said. “There will be sharks who will load up on a 10-1 shot, for example. That could tip the scales. Like with any betting, books don’t want a negative pool. And for this to work, it’s going to be about how well people understand it — both beginners and experts.”
Simplicity figures to be the preferred betting angle for BetMakers and the industry for fixed-odds betting to succeed in US horse racing.