New Betting Options Could Make These U.S. Racing Events More Popular
Horse racing and betting have had a somewhat complicated relationship in the U.S. over the years. On the one hand, several major horse races around the country take place at venues where betting is allowed, for one reason or another. On the other hand, sports gambling is generally prohibited in most parts of the U.S., and until recently was almost entirely illegal online. So, for a while now, people attending races could often find ways to bet in person. But the lack of an online market and many spectators’ general uncertainty about laws have prevented the betting industry from being the boon it could be, and once was, for the sport.
As you may have heard though, a Supreme Court decision in 2018 reversed the United States’ gambling ban, and in the time since then state governments have progressed toward allowing and regulating online betting. It’s likely that eventually, most states will allow this practice. In the meantime though, it’s worth wondering if some of the bigger racing events in the earliest states to allow gambling might be poised to grow.
That’s not to suggest that we’ll be shifting away from the likes of the Triple Crown races or the Breeders’ Cup, which are far and away the biggest racing events in the U.S. and figure to stay that way. However, do keep an eye on the following events in the next year or two, because they currently have the distinct advantage of taking place in states that now permit online gambling.
Haskell Invitational Stakes – Monmouth Park (Oceanport, New Jersey)
Following the aforementioned legal changes that cleared the path for states to legalize online betting, New Jersey was first into the fray. The Garden States was, in fact, in the midst of some of the legal battles that led to the change, and was more or less ready and waiting with betting services ready to blow up online. Not surprisingly, the new industry has thrived in the state, leading some experts to predict New Jersey will ultimately compete with Las Vegas in this space.
This sets the Haskell Invitational Stakes up to rise in the ranks of major U.S. races. A Grade 1 thoroughbred race first held in 1968, the event already has a $1 million purse, and is a popular stop for three-year-olds following the Triple Crown races. It also takes place at Monmouth Park, a high-end track in Oceanport that has hosted the Breeders’ Cup. Given all of this, it can already be counted among the bigger U.S. races. But with the betting activity it can now command, it’s likely to generate even more attention.
Pennsylvania Derby – Parx Racing & Casino (Bensalem, Pennsylvania)
Pennsylvania doesn’t get nearly as much attention as New Jersey does, but it’s set up arguably the second-best betting business in the U.S. so far. The Pennsylvania sports betting scene heading into 2020 features numerous high-end sites with experience across various sports markets – some of which, like DraftKings, already have name recognition among U.S. fans.
Incidentally, the Pennsylvania Derby is already held at a casino complex, which means betting isn’t necessarily new where this competition is concerned. However, with the online industry opened, the derby is likely to become an even bigger draw across Pennsylvania and for people in neighboring states. This is another $1 million race for three-year-old thoroughbreds, meaning with a big crowd it can already capture some of the spirit of the premier U.S. races. The Parx Racing & Casino complex could use a makeover, but the potential is there.
Indiana Derby – Indiana Grand (Shelbyville, Indiana)
Indiana hasn’t quite progressed to the extent of Pennsylvania or New Jersey, in that fewer sportsbooks are currently operating there. However, the state is among those that have introduced legal online sports betting, and the Indiana Derby is poised to take advantage.
It’s a smaller thoroughbred race than the last two mentioned above, with a $500,000 purse and Grade III status. However, Indiana shares in the midwestern horse racing culture that can make any such event a lot of fun (it does border Kentucky, after all), and the Indiana Grand Racing & Casino complex, where the race has been held for a few years now, has enough open space to support bigger crowds if and when betting attracts more spectators. It’s not the prettiest track you’ll find, but it’s a large facility.
West Virginia Derby – Mountaineer Race Track (Chester, West Virginia)
Like Indiana, West Virginia is easing into legal sports betting a little bit more slowly. However, the activity is legal, and the Draftkings Sportsbook – likely to become one of the most popular among U.S. bettors – is one that’s already set up shop there. As more sportsbooks follow, West Virginia is another state that could begin to generate more attention for horse racing through gambling activity.
The West Virginia Derby is another Grade III thoroughbred race with a $500,00 purse. It was run for the 50th time last summer, and its home – the Mountaineer Race Track & Gaming Resort – is almost deceptively pleasant. From the road, the facility almost resembles an over-sized high school gym. But once you get around to the racecourse, you’ll find a beautiful space with tidy seating, well-maintained tracks, and lush, hilly surroundings. It would be a terrific place for a bigger race, if that’s what the betting businesses bring about.
How much these races actually expand in the age of U.S. sports betting is anybody’s guess. Here’s hoping they do benefit though, because they could all be among the truly special events on the U.S. horse racing calendar.