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Sports Wagering Symposium Outlines Changing Landscape

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In a gravelly voice that clearly has spent many hours cheering teams and horses, race and sports book legend Victor Salerno offered racing some verbal encouragement as it prepares for fast-emerging legal sports wagering.

Salerno, a 40-year veteran of the race and sports book industry in Nevada, offered that encouragement at the Sports Wagering and Impact on Horse Racing Symposium presented by BloodHorse and Breeders’ Cup Sept. 6 at Keeneland. Three panels at the symposium outlined the opportunities and potential challenges for racing, as legal sports wagering comes online throughout the country. Racing relies on pari-mutuel wagering as its economic engine.

“You shouldn’t be afraid to do this,” Salerno said of tracks also offering sports wagering, noting tracks that do so will increase their foot traffic, providing opportunities to reach new customers. “Racing’s a great sport; we have to keep it going.”

At the three-hour presentation, panelists touched on wide-ranging topics related to sports wagering, including the benefits and challenges of offering sports wagering at tracks; opportunities for current advance-deposit wagering companies to expand to sports wagering or partner with sports wagering sites to cross-promote one another; an opportunity for racing to provide needed content for wagering in this new environment; the addition of non-pari-mutuel wagers in racing, like fixed-odds bets; and challenges that could include a competitive disadvantage as high-takeout racing in an atmosphere where low-takeout sports betting will be readily available.

Monmouth Park vice president of business operations Bill Knauf offered some firsthand experience since the New Jersey track brought in William Hill to operate on-track sports wagering in June. Knauf said the sports betting crowd is largely male and younger than the typical horseplayer. He noted the sports betting crowd has helped the track improve its simulcast handle as bettors are showing up early and staying late to watch West Coast baseball games.

Knauf said tracks have plenty of available parking, interior space that readily can be used to build first-rate sports books, and through their simulcast operations are familiar with bringing in multiple TV signals. He noted tracks routinely offer more such signals than even a Las Vegas sportsbook.

Panelist Victor Bigio, an online gaming marketer at Sportech, said tracks also have the space to host eSports events that are quickly gaining in popularity with young people. He said tracks should take advantage and offer those events and accept wagers on them.

Many states soon will be making these decisions. Beyond the three racing states that have already launched full sports wagering this year—New Jersey, Delaware, and West Virginia—Sara Slane of the American Gaming Association noted another 19 states have had bills proposed.

William Hill U.S. executive Dan Shapiro noted the planning that went into Monmouth has produced a facility where sports betting and race betting are well-integrated. He said a sports betting facility at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races is in the casino and separated from racing. He thinks the Monmouth model has a better chance of success for both sports wagering and race handle.

“What Monmouth has done with that integrated experience is the model we think tracks should look at in the future,” Shapiro said.

Just hours after TVG (FanDuel Group) announced Thursday plans to add a pair of Sunday morning shows that will largely focus on betting the NFL, FanDuel Group general counsel John Hindman said that variety should bring a more diverse group to the racing channel and its various sports and race wagering platforms.

He said the FanDuel platform will market race wagering, noting it will be presented in a way that will make sense to sports bettors. He also noted the benefits of cross-marketing—millions of dollars have been spent promoting FanDuel, initially a Daily Fantasy site, in recent years.

One aspect of betting sports those customers understand, on some level, is takeout in the 5% or 6% range. Ed Hannah of The Stronach Group said with those expectations, racing will need to thoroughly examine its much higher takeout (the amount of money not returned to bettors in winnings, which in racing is retained largely for tracks and purses) as it tries to attract new customers and retain current players.

“Lesson No. 1 is the takeout rate is too high. We need to figure out a more optimal takeout rate,” Hannah said. “There’s a little more wiggle room on multi-race or multi-interest wagers.”

He noted that in the online atmosphere, sports bettors will quickly notice the difference.

“People putting money in their deposits will notice that difference,” Hannah said, explaining that because of takeout, the average sports bettor can make a $100 deposit last much longer than the average horseplayer. “We have to do a lot of thinking about (takeout).”

Sports betting faces its own battle for customers, many of whom currently wager through illegal bookmakers, local or offshore. Panelists noted that one way legal operators will be able to compete is by offering a greater variety of wagers and events. They said the frequency of races, offered throughout the week, should prove attractive to sports betting sites.

Hindman noted that race wagering routinely is one of the top sports in terms of handle in other countries that already allow sports wagering.

While panelists offered a wide variety of opinions and ideas, all acknowledged the fast-changing landscape and racing’s need to be innovative rather than shrink away.

“We can take (the emergence of sports wagering) and put it toward the enhancement of the racing industry here,” Salerno said. “Don’t be afraid.”

Breeders’ Cup Host Sites Announced Through 2021

Breeders’ Cup officially announced Santa Anita Park, Keeneland, and Del Mar as the host sites for the next three editions of the World Championships.

In a press conference Aug. 17 at Santa Anita, it was announced the Arcadia, Calif., track would host the two-day event for a record-setting 10th time Nov. 1-2 in 2019. Keeneland, which hosted its first Breeders’ Cup in 2015, will welcome the 2020 edition Nov. 6-7. Del Mar—a first-time host in 2017—gets the event back Nov. 5-6 in 2021.

All three tracks planned press conferences Friday to announce Breeders’ Cup plans.

“Everybody knows how great Santa Anita is, so it’s never a question of ‘if,’ but ‘when’ for this place,” Breeders’ Cup president and CEO Craig Fravel said after the announcement Friday at Santa Anita. “Given the success of Del Mar and Keeneland, the same holds true for those.”

Churchill Downs is hosting the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Nov. 2-3, the ninth time the Louisville oval has put on the fall spectacle. With Friday’s announcement confirming a California-Kentucky rotation for the next three seasons, the two states will have combined to host 14 consecutive editions of the event.

“The Bluegrass served as the ideal backdrop for the 2015 Breeders’ Cup, and we could not be more excited to have Keeneland serve as the host of the 2020 edition of the World Championships,” said Keeneland president and CEO Bill Thomason. “Building on the success of the event for the industry and the community, we anticipate an even greater spectacle in 2020 and look forward to the Breeders’ Cup returning home once again.”

The last time the Breeders’ Cup was held at a track outside of Kentucky or California came in 2007, when Monmouth Park hosted the first year the event was expanded to a two-day format, and Fravel said Friday there is still interest from tracks outside of the two states.

“When I started in 2011, there was an option of two places, and there wasn’t anybody else in the mix to hold an event like this. One of the things we tried to do with Keeneland and Del Mar was to validate the different track model for holding the event, and that’s what happened,” Fravel said. “To me, we have greater and greater options going forward. We have inquiries from Laurel Park, who has made no secret of their interest, and our friends at Monmouth Park, now that they have sports wagering and some new dollars coming in … I think they’d like to be considered, and obviously we’ve talked about New York.

“I don’t think it’s going to be a static rotation. I hope to create an environment where people are wanting us to be there, asking us to be there, and doing what’s best for racing to encourage us to come.”

Tim Ritvo of The Stronach Group, which owns both Santa Anita and Laurel, said he would have liked for Laurel to be one of the three future sites but was hopeful for a 2022 bid for the Maryland track.

“We were hoping to get (Laurel) involved in this round, but we’re eager to make a strong bid for 2022,” Ritvo said. “We weren’t really ready yet, with the facility, but we had a great meeting yesterday about the build-out will look like, and the state is going to put together an advisory committee to give a really big push for 2022.”

Ritvo also said there will be $5 million in renovations at Santa Anita before the 2019 Breeders’ Cup, including new open-air suites in the grandstand and improvements to the upper levels of the clubhouse area. He said the upper-level grandstand suites would be like a “deck at your house, where you can sit and be casual.”

Regarding a potential Breeders’ Cup at a New York Racing Association track, Fravel said “capital improvements” would likely be required for a successful bid.

“I know they have a plan. It’s just the timing that’s unclear,” Fravel said. “I’m hopeful that within the next six months or so, we’ll have a clear picture of what their plan is. … There would have to be more concrete indications of what would happen and when. The experience, unfortunately, in New York is that best-laid plans get waylaid by factors outside of people’s control.”

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