By Bill Finley
OCEANPORT, N.J.-With a steady stream of customers showing up at the fixed odds windows, Monmouth Park's bold experiment with a new form of wagering the track hopes will energize the sport began Sunday.
Fixed-odds betting was supposed to begin a day earlier, but the opening day of the 2022 meet was canceled due to bad weather.
Monmouth did not release figures regarding how much was wagered on the fixed-odds bets, which made it difficult to assess how successful it was on day one. Because the bets are only available at present to on-track customers and Monmouth is the only track, for now, that players can bet on, expectations are that the handle, at the outset, will be modest.
There were, however, some positive signs Sunday. Three windows on the first floor of the grandstand accepted only fixed-odds wagering and the lines to get bets in typically ran three or four deep.
“The holds have been building with every race,” said Dallas Baker, the head of international operations for BetMakers, the Australian firm coordinating the fixed odds bets for Monmouth. “It's an educating process for the customers and an educating process for us as well. We are learning a lot. We are up and writing bets, but there are still a couple of takeaways from today that we need to look at. Ths success for us this weekend was always going to be measured by whether we were up and running and writing bets. We're writing bets and everything is working.”
Some of the customers appeared to be confused by the prices posted by BetMakers, which used the same system in place with overseas bookmakers. The stake is not included in the price. Therefore, a $2 bet on a 4-1 show pays $8, the same as a 3-1 shot in the pari-mutuel pools.
Many of the players were shopping for bargains, hoping they could find a horse going off at 3-1 in the fixed odds that might be 8-5 with the tote.
“I think this will work,” said jockey agent Nick Fulco after betting on the first race. “It will work in big fields, 12-horse fields, the turf races. You'll get 20-1 on maybe an 8-1 or 9-1 shot. Another place it will work is with the first-time starters. In the fixed odds a first-time starter might open up at 10-1, 15-1 and then you'll see them getting bet down. You might get 15-1 on a horse that pays 3-1. I'm going to be shopping around today for the best odds.”
(Note: For the sake of simplicity we have converted the fixed-odds prices to include the stake so that they correspond with the pari-mutuel prices).
Bargains were to be had, starting with the first race. Race winner Rhumjar (Holy Boss) took a lot of late action with the tote and went off at 2-1, paying $6. He opened at 9-2 in the fixed odds and held steady at that price. In the same race, beaten favorite Mr. Extension (Malibu Moon) went off at odds of 9-10 on the tote but could be had 8-5 in the fixed-odds betting.
It happened again in the second race with winner Kingdom Queen (Exaggerator) opening at 20-1 in the fixed odds before drifting down to 15-1. The filly went off at 8-1 in the pari-mutuel pools, paying $18.20. In the fifth race, Hushion (The Lumber Guy) paid $17.20 in pari-mutuel wagering with a $2 fixed odds bet closing at $28.00.
“We've seen massive price differences on some of the winners already today,” Baker said midway through the card. “We've also had 20-1's that were 10-1 on tote. It will show what a great service this is for the customers. Hopefully, this is a nice and easy start to what's going to be a great thing here.”
Bob Filo was typical of the customers that gave the fixed odds a try. A small bettor, he was curious to see how the system worked and was willing to give it a chance.
“I think this is a good idea,” he said. “If you're betting on a horse that you know is going to be a hot favorite you can shop for the best odds. I just wanted to try it. I just bet $5. I'm not sure how much I'll be betting on the fixed odds. I have to get used to it, see if it is worth it. I have to get the feel of it. I'll probably bet some in both pools today. Paco [Lopez] is always on the hot favorite. Maybe his horses won't be so low in the fixed odds. Then again, you might get burned. You could take Paco at 4-5 in the fixed odds and then his horse drifts up and goes off at 8-5. You just don't know.”
Baker said that he had expected to see more big gamblers try to exploit differences in the odds in the two pools.
“I was a bit surprised that we haven't seen a lot of professional money come in,” he said. “I was ready to be here and taking on some more professional money. It's been more just the general patrons getting into it. When the holds get bigger the more professional money will start flowing in.”
Baker has said that fixed odds should be available with online bookmakers in the state within a month or two. Betting will also expand to other tracks shortly and Baker said that his company has signed up about 15 tracks. However, all of the major racetracks are still taking a wait-and-see attitude regarding fixed odds wagering.