By Bill Finley
A bill legalizing fixed-odds wagering on horse races was passed unanimously by both houses in New Jersey and will now go to Governor Phil Murphy, who is expected to sign it. Expectations are that fixed odds betting will begin July 17, the day of the GI TVG.com Haskell S. at Monmouth Park.
“We've been pushing hard to get it up and running by the Haskell,” said Dallas Baker, the head of international operations for the Australian firm BetMakers, which will operate the fixed- odds betting. “That's always been our goal. We've got a lot of work to do, which is great. We've ve always been aiming for the Haskell and we're all confident that's when we can begin. It's go time.”
Monmouth Park has been a long-time advocate of fixed-odds wagering, hoping that it can do for U.S. racing what it did in Australia. Once legalized, fixed-odds betting exploded in Australia, leading to a sharp increase in total handle on racing and healthy purse increases.
“Our ultimate goal is to have what happened in Australia over the last 10 years or so and after online betting was deregulated happen here,” Baker said. “In that time, the handle has doubled and purse money doubled as well. That's what we want to see here, too. The opportunity exists in the U.S. to have that happen here and on a quicker time line than 10 years.”
With just 24.6 million residents, $25 billion is wagered annually on racing in Australia, or about $15 billion more than what is bet each year in the U.S.
Fixed-odds betting could also go a long way towards fixing what has become a serious problem for U.S. racing. Because large gamblers using computer programs to make their bets are allowed to bet at the very last second, it is common for odds to plunge on a horse during the running of the race. That, for obvious reasons, leaves a bad taste in the bettors' mouths.
With Monmouth long ago committed to the fixed-odds wagering, BetMakers has been looking to sign up other tracks to add to its betting menu. Baker would not say exactly how many have come on, but said he was pleased by the response.
“We've got quite a few tracks signed up and ready to go. Maybe a dozen,” Baker said. “What the bill allows is it provides the legalities to take fixed-odds bets as long as there are commercial terms in place with the other tracks. Quite a few signed up now and, hopefully, in next few weeks, we will get some more. We will also have a full menu of international racing.”
As of now, only New Jersey residents will be allowed to have fixed-odds accounts, but Baker said it should not take long for other states to come on board.
“We have spoken to a lot of other states and they have shown good interest in it,” he said. “But they were waiting to see the bill passed in New Jersey first. We see the roll out going very similar to what happened with PASPA (the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act). The obvious ones to take fixed- odds wagering on horses are the ones that already have sports betting.”
Once fixed-odds betting is widely available, the hope, Baker said, is that sports bettors who are now ignoring horse racing will be enticed to give the horses a try. That a fixed-odds wager closely resembles a typical sports bet is seen as a major selling point.
“The important thing is to zone in on the phenomenon that is sports betting in the U.S.,” he said. “We want to get those punters betting on racing and right now they don't have an easy in when it comes to racing.”
According to playnj.com, the takeout on the fixed-odds betting will be 12.5%, which is considerably lower than the typical takeout on pari-mutuel win wagers.