The 149th Kentucky Derby is just days away. The 2023 iteration of the Triple Crown race will represent the last version before the gambling industry in Kentucky sees some major changes. By the time the 150th Kentucky Derby occurs, the gaming landscape in the state could look very different.
While most of the focus is on the forthcoming introduction of legal sports betting in Kentucky, there is another potential alteration in the works. The entire scope of eventual and potential changes form three big questions that could see answers over the next year.
Will bettors add sports to their horse race wagering?
Kentucky has long been a sort of panacea for those whose gambling focuses on races for equine athletes. Multiple platforms like Caesars Racebook, FanDuel Racing, and TVG offer online pari-mutuel markets on races in Kentucky and around the globe.
At some point over the next year, Kentuckians will get access to licensed and regulated books taking bets on human athletes, too. There are questions about whether horse race wagering aficionados will switch over to sport betting apps on their phones once the apps launch in Kentucky, though.
In other markets where both legal racebooks and sportsbooks are available, the number of people who bet on both horse races and sporting events regularly is small. There are a few reasons for this.
Betting interest can get lost in translation
First off, the wagering channels for horse racing and human sports operate very differently. As previously mentioned, racebooks use pari-mutuel odds. For those unfamiliar, pari-mutuel markets essentially pool all the money bet on a race and then divide it up among winners based on their plays and the outcome of the race.
Sportsbooks, on the other hand, use fixed odds. The big difference between those and pari-mutuel markets is that the competition is the book instead of other bettors. For that reason, the book’s primary interest is getting the money on a sporting event as close to even as possible so no matter how the event turns out, it keeps a good portion of the money wagered.
Racebooks know they are getting a cut of the pot no matter which horses place or win. Thus, their interest is simply in growing the size of the pot. While some of these differences may seem nuanced, gamblers who are used to pari-mutuel markets might find wagering on fixed-odds markets uncomfortable.
Translating from pari-mutuel to fixed odds could only be the beginning of discomfort, though.
Lack of familiarity and knowledge
Part of what makes sports betting attractive for people is a delusion that because they are sports fans, their knowledge will give them an edge in betting on those sports. That’s a myth that responsible gambling education should work to dispel. It’s akin to another reason why people who bet on horse races might not embrace sports betting.
People who regularly wager on horse races do so for a similar reason; they feel their level of knowledge enables them to compete. They may not feel as familiar with human athletes and sports teams, though. With limited gambling budgets, they are more likely to stick with what they know and keep betting on horses.
With that said, if there’s any place where more crossover between these gambling types could happen than normal, it’s Kentucky. Not only is the state the hallowed home of Churchill Downs but the site of a respectable sports landscape as well. Collegiate basketball programs in Lexington and Louisville have strong fan bases, for starters.
Furthermore, the state’s proximity to the Cincinnati metropolitan area creates strong NFL interest. Lastly, Louisville is also home to NWSL and USL clubs. The next year could answer the question of whether Kentucky will also be the home of companies like FanDuel seeing unique conversion rates of horse bettors into sports bettors.
Gambling companies would like to see another question bear a similar response.
Will Kentucky prove age is just a number when it comes to gambling?
Most of the jurisdictions to legalize sports wagering so far have set 21 as the minimum age to take part. There are some exceptions, however. In New Hampshire, the minimum age is just 18 to bet on DraftKings online. Additionally, some tribal casinos allow people to place bets at 18.
Kentucky has joined that fray by setting its minimum age for legal sports betting at 18. With a population that is more than three times as large as New Hampshire’s, it will be the biggest market with such a provision.
The key statistic to watch over the forthcoming year is how often people in the 18-20 age group interact with resources for people with compulsive gambling issues. If the rates of such instances for people in that age group do not significantly deviate from those of other age groups, that’s an important piece of information.
If, on the other hand, that age group shows a disproportionate need for such services, Kentucky might want to revise its law. Many other states have separate minimum ages for different types of gambling. Kentucky could go a long way to showing that a 21 or older standard is quite arbitrary, though.
The last question also deals with some subjectivity in gambling law.
Will a skill games ban drive more traffic to other gambling forms?
In March, Kentucky enacted a new ban on gaming terminals known as skill games. The unregulated machines largely resemble slots in terms of their appearance and function. Proprietors of the terminals argue that winning is based on a player’s skill and not chance, so they are not gambling devices.
For that reason, Kentucky businesses like convenience stores and some other organizations have offered them to guests. However, they will soon be illegal. How soon is a question in and of itself, though. One of the companies that provides the machines, Pace-O-Matic, has sued to block enforcement of the law.
By the time the 2024 Kentucky Derby rolls around, that litigation may still be playing out. Should the law ultimately survive the challenge, though, the next question will be how tightly authorities in the state will enforce its tenets.
If they do so rigorously, that could compel more Kentuckians to seek licensed gaming establishments like the state’s facilities with historical horse racing machines. Those are also very similar to slot machines in their appearance and function.
Like with skill games, they do not use a random number generator to determine the outcome of wagers. Rather, they use actual results from past horse races. Such facilities currently exist in seven cities in the state.
Before the Kentucky Derby celebrates its sesquicentennial, Kentucky’s gaming industry could see some major evolutions. Therefore, Saturday’s race could represent the last hurrah of a bygone era in the state.