New Jersey gets it right with fixed-bet horse racing wagers

Go figure New Jersey.

The state that has turned the clock on horsemanship back nearly 2,000 years by handcuffing jockeys when it comes to using their crops may blaze a bold, new trail to the future of gambling on American horse races.

In what has to be considered progress, the state Senate and General Assembly this past week voted unanimously to approve fixed-odds wagering for horse races. Authored by Democrat Ralph Caputo and Republican Ronald Dancer, the bill will give Monmouth Park’s partner BetMakers the green light to deploy what it has been preparing to do for years. That is, to offer this separate betting market alongside existing mutuel pools.

Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy’s inevitable signature means that as soon as next month’s Haskell Stakes, New Jersey bettors should finally be able to enjoy what players in England and Australia have had for generations.

In other words, if a horseplayer looks at the board five minutes before a race and is afraid those 10-1 odds will shorten considerably, he or she can get a bet down with a bookmaker who will lock in that price. Likewise, if that same player does not want to deal with bookies’ limits on multi-race or exotic bets, the pari-mutuels are still there. No private bookmaker will assume the Pick 6 risk that mutuel pools can handle.

While bettors still need to be good or lucky handicappers to come out ahead, they are already winners because of the expansion of options. For horseplayers pummeled by soaring takeout percentages and last-second batch betting by computer players, this is a reason to celebrate.

BetMakers, headquartered in Australia, cut a 10-year deal with Monmouth Park in early 2020 to provide the infrastructure to deploy fixed-odds wagering, just as soon as it is made legal. The company also has agreements with Colonial Downs, Emerald Downs, Grants Pass Downs, Lone Star Park and the FanDuel site at Fairmount Park, plus three tracks in Canada.

Conspicuous by their absence, though, are the big boys and girls. The Stronach Group (its 1/ST Bet is a VSiN sponsor), the New York Racing Association and Churchill Downs Inc. are not yet on board. Their economic models are based on pari-mutuel wagering, and they no doubt would want a big piece of the action from the likes of BetMakers before allowing their races to be part of the fixed-odds menu.

Eventually, however, they will fall in line. The public will demand it. This is not like the simulcast nickels and dimes that CDI and Nevada have been fighting over for close to two years. These are big bucks at a time when per-race betting has actually grown, in part because the sport never stopped during the pandemic. Anyone invested in the business of thoroughbred wagering will not want to lose out.

It may not have the giant footprint the 2018 U.S. Supreme Court ruling left when it opened the floodgates for tens of billions of annual dollars in legalized sports gambling across the country. But there will be a nationwide push to have the fixed-odds model brought to a racing app near you, especially once horseplayers get a whiff of New Jersey.