November 2009 home page


Horseracing Must Jockey 
Carl Hilliard | Stratford Court

Bing Crosby and his gelding, High Strike, 1937.
Courtesy Del Mar Historical Society.

At Internet gambling’s first flush, horseracing was happy with the status quo. Today, given the extreme drop in the on-track handle, many horse people are of the opinion that fixed odds betting machines will save the day.

Not so. What we need now are big bettors. And what big bettors want is match betting.

Betfair.com launched match betting on the Internet almost a decade ago. Match betting introduces gambler to gambler -- one lays up a bet; others may accept. The bet laid can be anything. The difference is people are betting with each other, not a bookie or a track’s fixed-odds pool. Another difference is the betting doesn’t stop when the horses enter the gate; it continues throughout the race.

Betfair’s success has triggered other match betting sites, all after the same audience: high rollers who find old-fashioned fixed odds betting too slow and sedate, who like the larger payouts resulting from match betting’s lower overhead, and who, I believe, relish the freedom to set their own markets.

Online match betting sites vie for these bettors. Betfair, however, continues to dominate the field because it grasps the value of liquidity – liquidity being enough money in play so that the market can accommodate big bettors.

It’s expected that match betting will be available in the U.S. within the next five years. In anticipation of that, U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez introduced a bill on August 6, 2009 that proposed expanding Internet gambling to include online poker and other forms of gambling defined as skill games, including horseracing. Rep. Barney Frank introduced similar legislation in the House.

Some tribes and some card-room casinos responded to the Menendez bill immediately, lobbying in Sacramento for legislation to authorize their having a consortium to run California’s online gambling enterprise. Betfair, the tribes and the card rooms are all thinking along the same line: Use match betting to attract heavy-gambling hitters.

And that’s exactly how the horseracing industry needs to think. Horseracing in California must jockey for a share of the big bettors, the bread and butter of gambling. Match betting is the way to go. Being part of the tribal and card-room consortium in order to gain the necessary liquidity is the place to be.
If the horse industry is not able to participate in expanding online gambling, it will be left at the gate…again.

Jack Dempsey with the jockeys.  Late 1930s.
Courtesy Del Mar Historical Society.


J. Edgar Hoover with the jockeys. Late 1930s.
Courtesy Del Mar Historical Society.


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