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Thursday Thoughts: How long will the window remain open?

by Al Cimaglia

July 19, 2018

This is a not meant to be a critique of how the Meadowlands began their journey into sports gambling last weekend. My thoughts are are more far reaching concerning the criticism that was quickly thrown onto social media once the Big M was open for action. According to complaints the vigorish was hiked up on sports bets. Maybe that was a consequence of supply and demand and a decision made by FanDuel to make the most of the opportunity. Regardless, if that practice continues the consequences could be a lost opportunity for horse racing to gain exposure.

No one knows how the gambling landscape will be affected by legalized sports betting. To take it a step further and more to the point of this discussion is how legalized betting will help or hurt horse racing. One thing appears true, if sports gambling isn't used as a tool to expose horse racing to gamblers of other types of betting, it may not help but rather hurt the handle. That's where things become slippery. 

For quite a while my view was sports betting would be legalized and horse racing could be a beneficiary. My thinking was also race tracks would not become bookmakers themselves, but rather would partner with an organization with know-how and deep pockets. But now it is difficult to establish a reasonable expectation as to what will happen next. 

FanDuel was purchased by Irish bookmaker Paddy Power Betfair back in May. FanDuel has partnered with IGT for the platform to launch sports betting on site at the Meadowlands. FanDuel has name recognition on its side and the marriage seems to make sense on paper. 

By many accounts the opening weekend of betting at the Big M, which coincided with the Meadowlands Pace, went well. The Saturday night all source handle was over $4 million and over $1 million was bet on sports.  In general, those numbers seem good. The only fly in the ointment seems to be the vigorish FanDuel put on some wagers was considerably higher than typical. If legalized sports betting spreads to other sites within New Jersey or close by, people will have more choices. When, not if that happens, and the betting lines at race tracks aren't competitive horse racing will suffer. Gamblers will find the best place to bet and may not return to the track.

Some think there will be national betting lines and that seems to doubtful on many levels. What seems more likely is bettors could seek out online and mobile platforms to wager. Possibly sports betting could resemble betting race tracks all over the world online. If that happens there needs to be a reason for a sports gambler to go to a track and bet on sports. Certainly, if the posted lines on games at a race track aren't as good or better than elsewhere horse racing could miss an opportunity to grow.  

Horse racing needs to find a way to attract new gamblers and grow the handle. It would be a mistake to think the sports betting window of opportunity will stay open for a long time.   

Check me out on Twitter, @AlCimaglia