A panel of sportsbook operators was decidedly bullish on the near-future prospect of fixed-odds horse race wagering during a discussion titled “Integrating Horse Racing into the U.S. Sports Betting Environment” during Tuesday’s Global Symposium on Racing hosted by the University of Arizona Race Track Industry Program in Tucson.
But even though they acknowledged a transition from pari-mutuels would likely take several years and that fixed odds and pari-mutuels could coexist in some hybrid future form, now is the time to start taking baby steps in that direction, largely because America’s layers of gambling regulation and a current takeout system that hovers at around 20% payment for providing content aren’t quite what global sportsbooks are used to dealing with.
Nor are customers familiar with or eager to try and figure out the complexities of the pari-mutuel system, in which odds fluctuate during the event and you have to wait several minutes after the race has been run to figure out your winnings.
“Horse racing has to understand that you’re in direct competition now with sports wagering.”
Matt Cosgriff, the director of retail wagering and customer analysis for BetMGM. “And this sports wagering is using fixed odds. That’s what the new-age gambler is using. And the pari-mutuel product itself isn’t being well received by the newer age.”
Bettors want to be able to have trust in pricing, Cosgriff said.
And, he added, they want to be able to create their own bets, like making a three-way parlay wager involving two horse races and the featured football game.
“That’s how the modern gambler is now working,” Cosgriff said. “And horse racing can’t afford to sit back and just let the old system run itself into the ground.”
One interesting aspect that came up several times during this panel discussion was how lucrative a product the sportsbook operators perceive U.S. racing to be in a fixed-odds form.
Richard Ames, the chief executive officer for SIS Content Services, Inc., said part of the appeal is raw volume: The sheer number of races going off every day, year-round, at just about three minutes apart when scaled across the nation.
Paul Hannon, the senior vice president of corporate development at PointsBet, said racing should embrace what bookmakers might call being a type of “filler product,” because there is tremendous value in providing a “next to jump” betting market that can function as a collective, constant presence while other sports matches are being played out over the course of hours.
“It’s attractive to sportsbook operators as a product because it is always-on content,” Hannon said. “And the availability of content is really important for any sportsbook that is generating engagement on their products…. As long as the underlying economics make sense, it is a very investible product.”
Hannon might have even made the boldest challenge uttered during Day One of the symposium presentations by telling the racing industry it is in a position to become the dominant summertime betting option in the country.
“In the U.S. in particular, one thing that I think is not highlighted as much as it should be is the idea of seasonality, and the fact that in the summer months, sports books are looking for content to be able to market,” Hannon said.
“In my opinion, horse racing should absolutely be the number on bet-on sport during the summer, ahead of baseball, ahead of tennis, et cetera. I think that absolutely should be the goal for the entire industry, to make sure that happens in the coming years, coming decade,” Hannon said.
Pari-mutuels and fixed odds can live side-by-side, Hannon explained. But, he added, “I think horse racing doesn’t reach its full potential over the long term unless fixed-odds racing does become the new standard.”
Asked to compare pros and cons, Hannon continued: “The con, as I see it, is that it’s going to be uncomfortable. It’s going to take a little bit of risk-on appetite [on the part of] the major U.S. powers in horse racing. And that’s going to come with an element of uncertainty…. But I guess what I’d say [is because of bold entrepreneurship decisions made by current U.S. sportsbooks], that’s how modern-day, U.S. sports betting exists now. And that’s what horse racing is going to have to look at far as fixed-odds goes.”
Andrew Moore, the vice president of racing for FanDuel, admitted that getting the proper balance of fixed-odds and pari-mutuel betting is going to take some time. But the payoff will likely be worth it, he added.
“With a fixed-odds product, obviously there’s variability of margin. There’s been some argument that books will not be able to make adequate margin [if U.S. racing content providers insist on getting paid takeout-era rates for their fixed-odds products], and I don’t agree with that point, because I’ve seen us do very well on margin in Australia, and the U.K., and Ireland [with] double-digit margins on horse racing,” Moore said.
But, Moore acknowledged, “There is that sort of ‘cannibalization’ factor,” in which racing’s stakeholders fear that fixed odds will totally gut the mutuel pools, or that fixed odds works, “but not maybe to the degree that people hoped,” he said.
“It does have to work for everyone. It does have to work for the content provider and the customer, Moore said.
But, Moore continued at a different point, the long-term industry-wide investment should be worth it.
“The economics per dollar unit probably wouldn’t be the same as a tote bet,” Moore conceded. “But we would all tell you that-and it’s proven out in other markets-that fixed odds would be exponentially bigger than tote. So the net revenue’s coming to you at the end of the day even though your margin-per-dollar would not be the same.”
Christian Stuart, chief executive officer for North America for BetMakers Technology Group, pointed out that American racing has an opportunity to improve the sport via purse increases while both helping sportsbooks flourish and giving the customer a better overall experience.
“This whole ecosystem is ripe for creative innovation right now,” Stuart said.