Why Bet On Live Horses When You Can Bet On Dead Ones?

[toc]The concept may sound strange, but historical racing is taking the horse racing world by storm. New Jersey is no exception. The state is considering allowing state race tracks to offer the gambling variation.

In order to make a decision though, first state legislators need to figure out what exactly historical racing entails.

How does historical racing work?

The concept of historical betting first started in Arkansas. Oakway Race Track’s revenues kept declining, so it started historical racing in 1999. Essentially, historical racing machines draw from a database of 25,000 race results. Every five minutes or so, the machine offers the player a race to bet on.

The bettor gets some information, like odds and stats on how the horse has done previously. However, players do not know the names of the horses. They do not know other important info, like what track the race ran on or which jockeys rode, either.

Using that information, players can wager on the race, which then runs on the machine. Some use video clips of the race, while other creates a new, digital representation of the action.

With the ability to run races all-day and year-round, the technology helps race tracks survive when the horses are not running. The ability to run races every few minutes even helps on race days, when there are regularly 20-minute intervals between races.

Arkansas, Kentucky, Wyoming, and Oregon currently offer the product. Texas and Kansas briefly tried historical racing before pulling the plug on it.

Why do New Jersey race tracks want historical racing?

Historical racing is increasingly up for discussion at race tracks around the country. The desire to install them stems from a couple of economic reasons:

  • Increased competition from local casinos
  • Fewer number of live races being run

Dennis Drazin of the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, explained the casino problem to the Associated Press:

“Racing has fallen on hard times. We need help. Because of the casino gaming on our borders and the lack of any slot machines, the New Jersey purses are significantly lower than the states around us. The horses follow the money.”

Another problem is the number of races tracks run each year. In a recent interview on National Public Radio, Ryland Barton of Kentucky Public Radio was quick to highlight the decreasing volume of races as a big problem for the industry.

“Fewer people are going to races across the country. And that’s led to fewer races being run. There were 15,000 more races in 2006 than there were last year. To bring in more revenue, some race tracks have turned away from horses. Now, Churchill Downs makes its money this way,” Barton noted.

Barton is referring to Churchill Downs’ shift in attention from horse racing to gambling. In addition to owning four race tracks, the company also operates five casinos. It even acquired an online casino games company in 2014. Barton reported only one-fourth of the company’s revenue comes from horse racing.

New Jersey race tracks would like to diversify in similar fashion in order to survive. For example, Meadowlands Race Track owner Jeff Gural is willing to wait before trying to get casinos in North Jersey again, he still is not ready to give up that fight.

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NJ lawmakers unsure how to handle historical betting

The first legal battle New Jersey race tracks must fight is whether or not historical betting needs to be approved via voter referendum. Atlantic City representatives, who do not want race tracks expanding their gambling offerings, say this qualifies as gambling expansion. Per the law, that means it needs to be approved via a voter referendum.

Race track supporters suggest historical betting is a game of skill since bettors’ success is influenced by how well they interpret the stats and odds supplied to them. Per that definition, race tracks would be fine to proceed with state approval. Both sides testified in front of the New Jersey Assembly this month.

About the Author

Jessica Welman

Jessica Welman is a longtime member of the poker media and online gambling world. She has worked as a tournament reporter for the World Poker Tour, co-hosted a podcast for Poker Road, and served as the managing editor for WSOP.com. Welman has been involved for livestreams for the WSOP and WPT and worked as a consultant on many other poker productions. She can be found on Twitter @jesswelman.