Under Starters Orders: How a Law Change in America Could Change the Face of Horse Racing

American flagIt has been a long time coming, but on Monday the US Supreme Court struck down federal legislation that has outlawed gambling in the vast majority of North America since 1992.

The court voted 6-3 to overturn the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), which has barred sports betting in the US for more than two decades in most states outside of Nevada.

The law change offers new opportunities for gambling to be legalised on a state-by-state basis, and it has been reported by one research firm that the move could see bookmakers and racetracks accepting bets in 32 states ‘within five years’.

In their adjudication, the Supreme Court wrote: “The legalization of sports gambling requires an important policy choice, but the choice is not ours to make. Congress can regulate sports gambling directly, but if it elects not to do so, each state is free to act on its own. Our job is to interpret the law Congress has enacted and decide whether it is consistent with the constitution. PASPA is not.”

The main player in the action has been New Jersey, who have long fought for the abolition of PASPA. It’s a state that stands to gain plenty, with a number of casinos and racetracks already up and running.

The movement to strike down PASPA was met with opposition from all four of the major US sporting institutions: the NBA, NFL, NHL and the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association). They wanted the law upheld, stating that their sports would be threatened by a so-called ‘relaxing’ of integrity. The leaders of that quartet, barring the NFL, have since come out and said they are willing to embrace sports betting as long as it is properly regulated and monitored.

The move will also help to tackle the problem of illegal gambling, which is rife across North America and brings in an estimated $150bn in revenue each year. That profit share, as well as monies raised through taxation, will bolster the US economy at a time when divine intervention is very much welcome.

Tracks Racing Ahead

This changing of the guard will have a huge knock-on effect for horse racing in the country.

Since 1992 Nevada, and principally Las Vegas, has almost held a monopoly on sports betting in the US, despite it technically being legal in Oregon, Delaware and Montana, who had ratified gambling prior to PASPA coming into being.

And now plenty of others are looking to jump on board, as ESPN’s Sports Betting Bill Tracker confirms below. New Jersey, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Mississippi and Connecticut, while a further 14 states, including California and New York, are hoping that their own bills will be passed soon.

The upshot of the Supreme Court’s decision is that horse racing betting will become far more prominent, with a multitude of bookmakers and sports betting likely to lead an arms race for business in the next few years.

In a move that echoes the situation in the UK and Ireland, horse racing authorities are also thought to be proposing a system where they financially benefit by taking a certain percentage of the revenue raised by betting firms to reinvest in the sport.

And the racetracks themselves will also prosper, with many likely to be amongst the first properties in the country to be granted official betting licenses.

Monmouth Park, in New Jersey, could well be the flagbearer for horse racing betting in the States. It is believed that they have invested some $2 million in a sports bar and their own on-course bookmaking service, and that could be available to racegoers in as quick a turnaround as a fortnight.

The Garden State, via their New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, have been the primary mover in the bid to abolish PASPA, and their legal representative – and chief executive of Monmouth Park – Dennis Drazin has been vocal about how the changing legislation will affect horse racing. “This historic case really means survival for Monmouth Park,” he said.

“It means the ability to compete on a world-class level. It means being able to go out and offer our horsemen and breeders more opportunity – a longer length of season, more opportunities to be here in New Jersey, with perhaps the ultimate goal of [being able to race] from April to December.”

“My intention, unless someone stops us, is to be up and running in two weeks.”

Americans Have Big Appetite

The continued growth of Las Vegas as one of the gambling capitals of the world – popularity driven both by tourism and the visiting American population – confirms the fact that the US does have a real appetite for gambling.

And the latest figures released after the 2018 Kentucky Derby Day consolidate the notion that there is stacks of untapped potential as far as horse racing betting is concerned.

The total amount wagered on the day equalled a whopping $225m, a record figure that surpassed the previous best by some 8%. And despite the rain, with a rather spirit-sapping three inches falling on Churchill Downs, more than 157,000 spectators made their way to the track, with many using the ‘TwinSpires.com’ betting service to wager nearly $40m online alone.