Todd Buckingham, the CEO of Australian-based BetMakers, turned some heads in the horse racing world this summer with his projection for how dramatic a move it would be to bring fixed odds alongside the traditional parimutuel wagering system.
“We believe that horse racing has the potential to be the largest sport in the U.S., including basketball, American football, and baseball,” Buckingham told Charles Heyward of the Thoroughbred Racing trade publication in June.
Buckingham added that the Australian horse racing industry had “seen prize money levels double in the past 10 years” thanks to fixed odds.
Asked about that ambitious notion at Wednesday’s SBC North America Summit held at the Meadowlands Exposition Center in Secaucus, Buckingham did not back off.
“It will be as big as any individual sport in the U.S.,” Buckingham told the audience.
He pointed to the tremendous “inventory” that his sport can offer, with 200,000 races per year versus a mere 272 NFL games in 2021. Reaction in the horse racing industry was swift after NJ Online Gambling mentioned Buckingham’s comment in a tweet during the panel session.
They must have strong drinks at the open bar at the SBC North America Summit if he really believes that. Approx 20 billion in 2021 without NY online yet and FL in flux. It will be 40 billion soon. Racing people doing backflips about getting to 12. https://t.co/Cud1i6nHgY
— Charles Simon (@cannonshell) December 2, 2021
I am doubling down on my stance that it will not. I have $10,000 to be donated to the charity of their choice if he is correct by December 1 of next year. When he is wrong he can donate $10,000 to an animal rescue charity of my choice. What do you say Todd?
— david (@nydave11) December 2, 2021
Bullish CEO sticking to his guns
Just after the panel concluded, Buckingham spoke with NJ Online Gambling.
“In an industry that has been flatlining for a long period of time, it’s hard to say we’re going to grow,” he said. “But I think horse racing has an opportunity to be 10, 15, 20% of all betting in the U.S., and that would get us into that [frontrunner] category. I stand by that. It might be a couple of years down the [road], but we’ll see.”
Meanwhile, fellow panelist Michele Fischer, vice president of SIS Content Services, was a bit less bullish.
“It’s important that there are a couple of differences between Australia and the U.K., and the U.S.,” Fischer said. “When we look at horse racing in those two countries (Australia and the U.K.), it is the No. 2 spectator sport — they love their horse racing. In the United States, it’s maybe 8th [or] 10th? So I think the growth [potential] is there. You’re not going to see the same kind of growth you see in Australia and in England, but we do need to find a new audience.”
Fischer said that putting horse racing odds on a sports betting platform, as one New York lawmaker is proposing, could spur not only more wagering on horses, but subsequently more visits to racetracks.
Fixed opposition to fixed odds
The perceived threat from fixed odds to the traditional parimutuel system is felt by countless members of the horse racing industry. Neither Meadowlands Racetrack nor Freehold Raceway will be part of the “first wave” of fixed odds bets, as executives have decided to wait and see how Monmouth Park fares.
“Everybody thinks fixed odds is new, but we have had fixed odds for years,” said Monmouth operator Dennis Drazin, noting that most U.S. racetracks offer the signal from their races internationally so that gamblers there can make fixed-odds bets on American races.
Drazin often notes that newcomers to horse racing who place a bet on a horse for $10 to win at 10-to-1 expect to win $100 if the horse crosses the finish line first. But odds keep shifting right up until the final number posts just after the race has started.
Not long after New Jersey launched sports betting at Drazin’s track in June 2018, he offered a unique exotic bet during the Haskell Invitational race day that featured three races and the Sunday Night Baseball game. He said some patrons who had become regulars at the track for betting on sports began betting on racing as well.
As legal sports betting has exposed new gamblers to a fixed-odds format there, Drazin says horse racing needs to keep up with the times — or risk turning those bettors off by uncertainty at the time of the bet.
Skepticism also is not new to Drazin, whose intervention and support nearly a decade ago for the quixotic bid by New Jersey to topple a 1992 federal law that limited legal sports betting to Nevada bore fruit in May 2018, when the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated that law and kicked off a national sports betting gold rush.
When does the next revolution begin?
While Drazin and BetMakers have been eager to debut fixed odds offerings for the past two years, there have been delays due to complex technical and legal hurdles.
Drazin said the only remaining step is for the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority — the former owner of Monmouth Park — to send a certification to the state’s Division of Gaming Enforcement that confirms the track is licensed to offer such bets. At that point, the racing license could be formally transferred to Monmouth Park.
Drazin said that “active discussions” with NJSEA officials suggest that fixed odds offerings could be “imminent” in New Jersey. That could mean as soon as this month, he added, with New York thoroughbred tracks perhaps providing the first race signals.
Looking ahead, Drazin said it would be prudent for any tracks taking on a partner to add fixed odds to the menu to mirror his thoroughbred horsemen’s deal, which guarantees them $5 million over the first five years of the deal.
Buckingham said after the panel discussion that “it’s more important to get it right, as New Jersey is going to be the model.”
That said, don’t expect a “soft launch” for fixed odds.
“We want to start with as many races as we can,” he said. “It can’t just be ‘toes in the water’ — you’ve got to dive in.”