By Bill Finley
New Jersey moved one step closer to becoming the first state in the country to allow fixed-odds wagering on horse races when a bill that would authorize that form of betting was introduced in the New Jersey Legislature Thursday.
The bill was introduced by New Jersey State Senator Vin Gopal and an identical bill has been sponsored by Assembly Gaming Committee Chairman Ralph Caputo and Deputy Republican Leader Assemblyman Ronald Dancer. With the bill enjoying bipartisan support, expectations are that it will pass and will be signed into law by New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy some time before the beginning of the 2021 meet at Monmouth.
In February, it was announced that Darby Development LLC., the operator of Monmouth Park, had entered into a 10-year agreement with the Australian firm BetMakers in which BetMakers would manage and distribute fixed-odds betting on Monmouth's races. Monmouth had hoped to offer fixed-odds betting during the 2020 meet, but the review process conducted by the Attorney General's office dragged on longer than expected. Should the legislation pass it is expected that fixed-odds wagering can begin without any further delays and without the requirement that it be approved by the Attorney General's office.
“The Company is pleased that the legislation has been introduced and supported by both sides of the aisle, and that it provides a clear framework for Fixed Odds horse racing in New Jersey,” BetMakers CEO Todd Buckingham said in Monday's press release. “The introduction of the Bill is an important step for providing a regulatory pathway for the introduction of Fixed Odds Betting in the U.S. and places New Jersey as the front-running State in the U.S. to pursue this opportunity.”
BetMakers Head of International Operations Dallas Baker said the takeout on fixed odds betting has yet to be determined but “will be pretty similar to what you see with the tote or maybe a little bit more competitive.”
At this stage in the process, fixed odds wagering will be available for New Jersey residents only and only on New Jersey tracks. However, Dennis Drazin, the chairman and CEO of Darby Development, said that BookMakers will look to expand and sign up tracks outside of New Jersey. In order to do so, they will have to comply with the Interstate Horseracing Act, which requires consent from the racetrack operators and a local horsemen's group. He added that there is a possibility that fixed odds betting could begin before the Monmouth meet and at one of the two harness tracks in the state, the Meadowlands and Freehold.
BetMakers will attempt to expand the form of wagering outside of the tracks themselves and ADW companies and bring the many firms that accept sports betting on board, as well.
Fixed odds wagering has proved to be extremely popular in Australia. Baker said that it was introduced in Australia about ten years ago and is the primary reason handle in that country has doubled since that time.
“If you study the model of Australia, it has really grown the business there,” Drazin said.. “And our business over here has stagnated a little bit. This is a new opportunity to grow the market.”
One of the advantages of fixed odds wagering is that it prevents what is a growing problem in American racing, large odds drops in the pari-mutuel pools on horses after the race has begun.
“As a racetrack operator who talks to people, talks to our customers, one of the biggest complaints I get is when someone says they bet a horse at 8-5 and by the time they broke out of the gate and went a little bit the horse was 3-5,” Drazin said. “They think something has to be wrong with this picture. This way the bettor will have clarity on what the odds are and they're not going to change. It will result in better satisfaction for the person making the wager.”
This will not be New Jersey's first foray into fixed odds wagering. New Jersey had been the only state to allow wagering on the betting exchange Betfair. The exchange allows customers to set prices on horses and bets are matched when two bettors agreed on the odds. After a run of four-plus years, Betfair pulled the plug on the New Jersey exchange at the end of September, saying that handle was so low that they couldn't justify continuing on. One of the problems with Betfair is that it never reached agreements with most of the major tracks that would have allowed New Jersey customers to wager on them Drazin said he hopes that BetMakers does not run into the same problem.
“This is going to be good for our business if everybody gets on board,” he said. “If only a few tracks offer it and it's not the major tracks it will suffer the same growth problems exchange wagering had.”
BetMakers is also behind the $1 million BetMakers Bonanza, a $1 million bonus that combines the GI Haskell S., the GI Kentucky Derby and the GI Breeders' Cup Classic. Having already won the Derby and the Haskell, Authentic (Into Mischief) will earn the bonus if he wins the Classic.
“One of the things we want to do is give back to the industry,” Baker said. “This is a good opportunity and we jumped on the chance to sponsor it. It's exciting to see that Authentic is alive for the bonus going into the Breeders' Cup.”