By Dean Hoffman
Get ready, horse racing, because sports wagering is coming your way.
That was the consensus of speakers on the hottest panel discussion on the second day of the Global Symposium on Racing sponsored by the University of Arizona Race Track Industry Program.
The session was particularly timely because arguments on the issue of sports wagering were held two days earlier before the Supreme Court in Washington. Although the panelists agreed that sports wagering will come to the United States, they are not in agreement on when it will happen and exactly how it will be structured.
The Supreme Court case focused on the Professional Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), a law passed in 1992 and being challenged by New Jersey. The case titled Christie v. NAACP and was important enough that New Jersey governor Chris Christie traveled to Washington to witness the arguments. The plaintiffs contend that PASPA is unconstitutional because Congress cannot control state legislative actions.
Marc Dunbar, a Florida attorney with Jones, Walker LLP said, “The Supreme Court just taking the case for arguments was a big deal in itself. Racing needs to be ready.”
Dunbar was present in Washington and felt that six justices were struggling with how they can affirm the PAPSA and keep it in place.
“Justice Kennedy clearly wasn’t buying what the NCAA was saying, and he is always an important voice and vote on the Supreme Court,” Dunbar said.
“PAPSA is now the law of the land,” continued Dunbar, but he envisions either a partial or full repeal of the law.
On that issue, it was noted that New Jersey Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr. introduced a bill in Congress on Monday–the same day that the Supreme Court cased was being argued–to repeal PASPA and allow states to legalize sports betting. He had floated a draft of his legislation six months ago.
Rep. Pallone’s bill sports the acronym GAME (Gaming Accountability and Modernization Enhancement Act) and would open the doors for states to move forward on sports wagering.
Dunbar advised symposium attendees: “Get prepared. A pathway is coming for states to opt into sports wagering if they want to.
“I don’t think PASPA is going to survive,” he continued. “Justices Gorsuch and Roberts may hold the keys. I think New Jersey will get a green light to go immediately with sports betting in regulated facilities. Pennsylvania and Mississippi are also almost ready to go.
“When all is said and done, PASPA will go,” said Dunbar.
One of the many unresolved questions is what revenue can horse racing derive from sports betting.
The bookmaking firm William Hill signed an agreement several years ago to be the exclusive sports betting provider for Monmouth Park in New Jersey.
Michael Grodsky, VP for Marketing and Public Relations for William Hill, said that Monmouth Park already has a sports bar that could easily converted into a sports book once New Jersey gets the go-ahead for sports betting.
“Racing and sports betting go together very well,” he said. “In this bar, we have 50 TVs and great places to watch the games and races.”
Alex Waldrop, moderator of the panel, said, “Sports leagues have issues with betting. If you are showing my product, I want to be compensated. They also don’t want their games to be corrupted.”
Grodsky agreed that integrity is essential.
“If there is some fixing, it’s the bookmaker who gets hurt,” he pointed out. “We’re the first on to pick up the phone and inquire if we have integrity concerns. It’s our money at risk.”
Grodsky said that if sports wagering comes, tracks will need to hire expert personnel to be successful in this new wagering stream.
Jessica Feil, a lawyer with Ifrah Law in Washington, DC, predicted that the Supreme Court would open up sports betting with a 6-3 decision in the New Jersey case.
“Horse racing is already legalized sports betting in this country,” she emphasized. “We just need to follow the blueprint of horse racing. Gambling has a strong history of being a state issue. I am optimistic that tracks can handle sports wagering.”
Feil mentioned that betting on competitive video gaming– eSports–already exists and is getting bigger all the time. It has lucrative sponsorship deals and multi-million dollar tournaments around the world.
“People are betting on this all over the world, but not in the USA, except a little in Nevada,” she said.
Another panel on Wednesday focused on the expanding Asian market and its importance to the growth of international simulcasting. Speakers detailed the popularity of racing in Japan, South Korea, and Singapore and the potential benefits of simulcasting for North American tracks.
Racing in Asia offers several advantages to tracks in North America. Asian races take place late in the night in North America when there is no competition from North American tracks. Racing in Asia is high quality and integrity standards there area extremely strong. Field sizes average more than 11 runners, highly desirable for bettors. Asian tracks offer racing program several times each week for 50 weeks a year.
There are, of courses, drawbacks to Asian racing for North American markets. Jockeys, trainers, and horses in Asia, for example are largely unknown to bettors. Past performance information from Asia must be converted to an American format to be meaningful for handicappers.
David Haslett, CEO of Sky Racing World in Australia, spoke in glowing terms about the racing product at the three tracks in South Korea.
“It has the seventh largest horse racing turnover in the world,” he said. “The Korean Racing Association is certainly one of the most progressive organizations in the world. It’s been a fantastic partner for Sky World. The world is getting smaller. We see Korean racing becoming stronger in new markets around the world.”
Klaus Ebner, Sr. Manager of Simulcasting and HPI Services with Woodbine Entertainment Group, spoke about the strong partnership between Woodbine and the Japan Racing Assn.
“There is a demand for late night wagering opportunities after our harness races are over,” he said. “Our fans have typically gone to Australian racing. Bringing in new content is tough. You have to format the performance data to fit the North American style. But this has been a great partnership with Japan for us and we’re looking forward to working with the Japanese in the future.”
In a session on marketing, Dawn Kay, Social Media Specialist at Woodbine Entertainment, told audience members to “plan for spontaneity.”
Her colleague at Woodbine, Rob Platts added, “Some of the best ad-libs are rehearsed.”
Kay emphasized the importance of having a full year plan for marketing and social media. It should have key dates and timelines as well as monthly themes.
In other sessions on Wednesday, speakers discussed marketing, wagering innovations, compliance issues in for international racing participants, and officiating practices in international racing jurisdictions.