Online Fixed-Odds Wagering Gets Its U.S. Debut In New Jersey

monmouth park entrance

A full 24 hours before Friday’s 2 p.m. first race at Monmouth Park, horse racing bettors around New Jersey with a monmouthbets.com account could place a wager and guarantee themselves those odds.

That’s the lure of “fixed odds” betting: Take early favorite Cassation at even money, or “2.00” by the decimal listing for fixed odds, and that will be your price.

For traditional parimutuel bettors, they may take Cassation at the same odds 10 minutes before the race, only to see the odds drop to something much lower such as 1/5 just as the horses leave the starting gate in Oceanport.

Bettors in the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Australia have been making fixed-odds bets for many years. Here in the U.S., it was only late last week that the first online fixed-odds wagers were made during a barely-noticed “soft launch.” That followed the launch of such betting for those in person at the Oceanport track in May, at a modest six teller windows to start.

‘Fixed’ is not forever

The most important thing to know is that “fixed odds” doesn’t mean you can get that number any time you like. The fixed part is that “the price you bet is the price you get.” Otherwise, the fixed-odds board is as fluid as its parimutuel counterpart as the start of the race nears.

The next thing that’s different is the use of the decimal system to list the bet, so that the odds that are displayed are what you would collect from each dollar you wagered.

For a casual player who likes betting longshots, it isn’t likely to matter if they misread “$40.00” on fixed odds as a 40/1 bet when it actually is 39/1, in fractional parimutuel odds terms.

But a high-stakes player who chooses a horse at fixed odds of “3.00” must understand that the fractional odds equivalent is only 2/1. So if, by chance, 3/1 is the parimutuel odds of the moment, that’s the better play.

Visitors to Monmouth Park can look at a large board with live, ever-changing parimutuel fixed odds side-by-side, choosing which alternative form of betting is better for the horse they back.

Why New Jersey leads the way — again

At the SBC Gaming Conference at the Meadowlands Expo Center in July, Monmouth Park operator Dennis Drazin was asked why he helped lead the charge for fixed odds.

“Why did I push so hard for sports betting?” replied Drazin, who — along with the state’s Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association — was part of the winning legal team that saw the U.S. Supreme Court in May 2018 open the door for Las Vegas-style sports betting in any state that chooses to approve it.

In each instance, Drazin said, the drive for innovation stemmed from a recognition that the horse racing industry must learn how to attract a much younger audience if it is to survive.

Racetracks in New York and Pennsylvania get massive purse subsidies from a share of slot machine revenue at those tracks, but New Jersey limits brick-and-mortar slots to Atlantic City casinos.

“We need something to attract a lot of new customers, and the idea of fixed odds has always appealed to me,” Drazin said.

Another point is that Drazin envisions a world where sportsbooks bring horse racing betting into their fold, as a way of ensuring having a gambling product available from around the world, 24 hours a day. Drazin said 100,000 annual horse races globally is many magnitudes larger than the few thousands of games in traditional American team sports.

And a sports bettor always gets “fixed odds,” so if they take a stab at a horse race and find that their winnings are smaller than expected, it could turn off newcomers to horse racing.

“Five years from now, fixed odds will be 50 percent of the handle on horse racing in New Jersey,” Drazin said. “Younger people love it, because they are used to a sports betting mentality. A lot of older bettors — they are more reluctant to try something new.”

What’s next for fixed odds?

While monmouthbets.com subscribers currently can use fixed odds only for Monmouth Park races, BetMakers executive Dallas Baker told NJ Online Gambling Wednesday, “That is only for a moment. It will change in a couple of weeks.”

A dozen or so tracks already have signed on, and so far it looks as if Colorado could be the second state to offer fixed odds. An enabling law was passed there in March, although the process has gotten bogged down ever since.

Baker cites a list of partner tracks that includes Assiniboia Downs, Century Mile (harness), Canterbury Park, Caymanas Park, Colonial Downs, Delaware Park, Emerald Downs, Fairmont Park, Grants Pass, Hawthorne (harness), and Tampa Bay Downs.

Who else is involved in conversations about fixed odds? New Jersey-based lobbyist Bill Pascrell III mentioned Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Oklahoma, Washington state, and Florida — with New York lawmakers also expressing interest.

Many horsemen — including the Standardbred Breeders and Owners Association of New Jersey and Meadowlands Racetrack operator Jeff Gural — have sentiments ranging from modest concerns to a near-certainty that fixed odds will cannibalize the parimutuel wagering to the detriment of the entire industry.

That’s why in 2022, at least, fixed-odds bets will be offered for Monmouth Park races, but not for harness races at the Meadowlands or at Freehold Raceway.

BetMakers, meanwhile, has offered guarantees to New Jersey thoroughbred horsemen that their bottom lines will not be negatively affected with fixed odds. Also, so far only win, place, and show betting is part of the fixed-odds launch — and two-thirds of the handle in the state comes from “exotics” such as trifectas or Pick-6s that will be unaffected.

Baker said that fixed odds’ share of the market already has risen in three months or so, from about 10% to 20% — without a reduction in the parimutuel handle. And that’s even though fixed odds, with its six tellers, has under 2% of the teller and self-betting kiosk options at Monmouth Park, as BetMakers North America CEO Christian Stuart pointed out at the SBC event.

At the recent Haskell Stakes race in Oceanport, traditional bettors collected on local favorite Cyberknife’s win at 7/1 odds. But fixed-odds players could have gotten the fractional equivalent of anywhere from 8/1 to 10/1 .

So far, marketing of fixed odds in New Jersey has almost entirely been limited to face-to-face encounters with Monmouth Park patrons who are given pamphlets and encouraged to ask questions. That is expected to change once the website begins to feature racing from multiple tracks later this year.

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