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Thursday Thoughts: Does a Rising Tide Lift All Boats? .... Maybe

by Al Cimaglia

May 17, 2018

It would have been surprising to me if the Supreme Court didn't rule in favor of individual state's controlling their own destiny regarding legalizing sports betting. In my view this was an overdue decision which will impact many. A big question is if horse racing will benefit although there will be more competition for gambling dollars. Someday we may have an opportunity to wager on everything under the sun, from a Presidential election, to the Academy Awards, same as is happening now overseas.

Will horse racing see an increase in handle simply because a rising tide lifts all boats? An issue of concern is the horse racing boat has some holes that need fixing. That said, there could be endless reasons why horse racing will gain new fans, but the opportunity needs to be aggressively taken. If race tracks take sports bets on site patrons may indulge in also placing a wager on a horse. How much horse racing will benefit remains to be seen. But whatever the gains are for racing it will be far greater than crossover wagering from slot machine players.

A passive attitude will hold back horse racing. Although the handle may increase it may not grow as a percentage of the entire amount wagered. Reports say there is a $150 billion bet illegally every year in the United Sates. No pun intended, but I wouldn't bet $1 that is an accurate estimate. What is most important for horse racing is whether it will get a good piece of new found legal gambling dollars.

It would be best if the amount of money bet on racing grew because of exposure to additional people willing to bet. For that to happen horse racing must become more relevant than it is today. Can the many jurisdictions in North America come together with a united plan to grow the sport? That's a shaky bet for horse racing. The options are numerous if money is spent on technology and marketing while there is a commitment by all jurisdictions throughout North America.

From a macro view gambling in the U.S. will grow a great deal, mostly because it will be viewed as more acceptable, the stigma has been lifted. The proof for that conclusion happened this week. The public has been tenderized, gambling has become more accepted than ever before. Maybe my view is slanted but I didn't witness or sense any public outrage over the Court's decision. The ruling was significant, but it wasn't met with much vitriol.

Making a bet will become main stream and those who already enjoy gambling will find additional options for their entertainment dollars. No doubt a huge benefactor will be team owners as betting on their games will help to create interest. TV ratings should tick up and ad revenues should follow.

No matter how much the NFL wants to talk about maintaining the integrity of their sport, all along they have embraced the influence of betting. Gambling is probably the primary reason for the NFL's great popularity. The NFL travels across the Atlantic to play games in Wembley Stadium where many people in the stands have placed a wager on the game. The hypocrisy is comical.

The Supreme Court decision will affect many people, some negatively. I wrote a few months ago if you followed the money all signs pointed to this decision coming to pass. The increase in values for sports franchises over the last few years has been dramatic despite TV ratings floundering.

I anticipate in the not too distance future fans will be in front of their TV's or in an arena betting during games. In Las Vegas in-game betting is gaining popularity. Soon, those attending games or watching TV in their family room will be intently focused for every minute of a contest. Fans of their favorite team will be interested and so will those simply looking to cash a ticket.

Monmouth Park in New Jersey has been in plug and play mode for a while. Reports have indicated sports betting could happen at Monmouth as soon as the beginning of June. Many other states will follow but it will take time for sports betting to become a reality in most places. After all this is America where politics can stifle a process. In a state like Illinois, who sorely needs additional revenue, it wouldn't be a shock if it took until late 2019 for legal sports betting to be instituted.

There is time for horse racing to get in step with a changing gambling environment but there's no time to waste.

Check me out on Twitter, @AlCimaglia.