A Hopeful New Exacta - Legalized Sports Wagering and The Kentucky Derby

The first Kentucky Derby since sports betting became licensed and regulated in the U.S. may see record handle as sports bettors cross over to betting the ponies.

The first Saturday in May should now see sports bettors sharing their attention at Churchill Downs

When 150,000 or so people finish singing "My Old Kentucky Home" this Saturday at Churchill Downs their minds will turn to turn toward rooting their horse on in the Kentucky Derby. They can also thank seven U.S. Supreme Court justices for their YES decision right before the Preakness last year. It was their fateful PASPA reversal vote (of eleven with two abstaining) that will help support record-breaking wagering on the Run for the Roses this year. A record that undoubtedly will be broken next year as more and more states legalize sports betting, allowing for more Derby wagering parties within new U.S. sportsbook facilities and at home. 

The Racebook-Sportsbook (An American Tradition)

No two entities ever seemed more appropriate for each other than horse racing and sports betting. The blood lines of bettors have been tied together for decades of people who love to bet on sports, but also have a fondness for wagering on horses as well. Americans traditionally have specifically embraced that bond due to the structure of legalization over the years and the opportunity to wager legally in but a few U.S. states. Only the spread of horse racing simulcasting has enabled opportunity for people to wager and frankly keep the sport alive at most U.S. race tracks.

Up until the reversal of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) in May 2018, many racetracks have lived on simulcasting support without the co-joining marketing connection of sports wagering for their menu. From noon till midnight, most facilities feature race tracks from around the country and some from around the world for bettors.  NFL, NBA, MLB games, etc., stream on televisions but no opportunity has "legally" been available for patrons to wager upon. That has all changed this year in many racetracks including Monmouth Park and The Meadowlands in New Jersey, Delaware Park, Parx near Philadelphia, PA and a select few other U.S. locations, at present. 

Though they are currently minimal, expect that to change mightily a year from now when this group will be joined by several other 'racino-sportsbook' venues that will marriage together this pair of popular cousins in one location. 

Saluting the Stardust

It wasn’t that long ago gamblers who loved to bet on both horses AND sports planned their vacations to the Las Vegas Stardust, home of the nation’s most popular and spacious room dedicated to only horse and sports wagering. Before horse racing was visually shown on screens, dozens of screaming players packed the Stardust, only able to listen to the calls of races. Hard to believe in this digital-packed sports television world, but players would also stare at a neon board, inning by inning or quarter by quarter for results to be posted without any broadcast message possible. Although there were a few notable race & sports rooms scattered among the Vegas strip, the Stardust was indeed a famous national mecca in the early 1980’s. 

Following the Stardust, came the huge room also dedicated to sports and horse racing at The Las Vegas Hilton (today the Westgate) and now known as The Superbook. Joining them were also large facilities at Caesars Palace, the MGM and several others. Horse racing simulcasting certainly spurred the opportunity along with new sports networks offering nationwide cable broadcast, making every game possible to both watch and wager upon. The opportunity to bet was undeniable, but legally it was still restricted for both horse racing and sports onsite to the state of Nevada until that fateful day of May 14th, 2018. 

Fast Forward to a New Starting Gate

This Saturday welcomes a fresh new opportunity to market the Kentucky Derby and horse racing within the menu of sports bettors at many new race tracks and legal onsite wagering facilities in the U.S.

While feasting on legalized NBA playoff wagering action, Major League Baseball and NHL Stanley Cup Hockey, mint juleps and party appetizers will be served to a new generation of bettors, both hard core and casual. There’s no doubt record handle will be taken in for the Derby with many new people drawn into the crowd at new facilities. With a possibility of a dozen states or more anticipating legalization by the first Saturday in May 2020, this year’s record will no doubt be shattered again next year.

The most interesting aspect will not be only the effect onsite, but might be felt at home as well. For example, New Jersey is currently handling 75-80% of their state-wide action on sports wagering online. That incremental effect will undoubtedly help new participating sportsbooks including William Hill, DraftKings and FanDuel. It will also bolster current horse racing simulcast leaders TwinSpires.com and TVG

What Needs to be Fixed?

Many horse players will still prefer to wager Saturday among the list of preferred sportsbooks including Bovada, BetOnline, 5Dimes and Bookmaker It is within that option that all bets will not be included in the pari-mutuel total, therefore affecting any odds change. 

This brings up a larger subject that will receive a lot more notice within the horse racing industry as legalized sports wagering grows in the U.S. Unlike sports wagering, all bets for horse racing are gathered in a pari-mutuel pool, meaning all wagers potentially diminish odds for a bettor (especially very large wagers).  It is not up to a human to assign fixed-odds, therefore a bettor will not know the official price of his wager until the bell is rung right before the start of the race. Watch for this challenge and very potential problem to be debated upon and studied as horse racing and legalized sports wagering intersperse. 

Overall, legalized U.S. sports wagering could be welcome assistance to a very ailing horse racing industry.  Recent tax breaks for bettors have helped somewhat, but overall the interest in thoroughbred and harness racing has diminished over the last two decades. That’s been joined by headlines of more horses dying on track contributing to negative news. Here’s hoping horse racing stays close to the screens of ball games in more wagering locations throughout the country over the next year.  More important at home to create more interest and keep a great U.S. tradition alive.

Bet on BetUSR
And speaking of great tradition, here’s Glenn Greene’s binocular view of selections for the 145th Kentucky Derby this Saturday at Churchill Downs:


Admitting to a very sentimental choice here for jockey Javier Castellano. Overall America’s best over the last fifteen years, who is now 0 for 12 in the Derby and very due for a win.  This horse has done nothing wrong in four starts and is coming off a nice win in the Blue Grass. Down side is that horses traditionally haven’t fared well after Keeneland and Vekoma hasn’t beaten this good of competition yet. About 15-1 odds will be enticing.


A silencing word and subject, but you’ll certainly be screaming if this longshot scores. Right now, the weather calls for 100% rain at Churchill Downs on Saturday. This sleeper should love a wet track. You could have purchased this former claimer for only $30K last Fall. Not saying he could win, but anywhere on the board could light up the exotics.  Also bred for the long mile and a quarter Derby distance.


With Omaha Beach now scratched, this Bob Baffert starter may wind up a slight favorite at about 4-1.  Another horse who should appreciate a wet track and a long distance. Blinkers off here as he’ll likely be close to the lead or near the front end out of the gate. With a reasonable pace, he should be tough. Watch for the warm-ups as Improbable is known for pre-race antics and might get stirred up by the giant CD crowd.  At his best he is a worthy favorite with jockey Irad Oritz Jr. And of course, Mr. Baffert looking for his record tying sixth Derby victory, adding to your confidence. 

Glenn Greene covers the games from a betting angle every week exclusively at OSGA.com. For weekly betting insights, including previews and picks from Glenn, click here.

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