Track Betting in Sports – the Pros and the Cons
There is no doubt that first of all, thoroughbred wagering is a huge sport in the U.S. And elsewhere; and there also is no doubt that off-track betting (OTB) has become a very popular form of gambling, not only in the United States, but all over the world. Like any issue involving money, the public, and potential harmful habits that could be formed, OTB is, always has been – and always will be – controversial. This paper will discuss gambling addiction and other negative wagering issues as part of the “con” side (including the age groups most vulnerable to addictive behaviors); and the paper will also present the “pro” side, including food, beverage and entertainment services offered at OTB sites, the newest OTB innovations (which are on the Internet, which makes a person’s home a veritable OTB); and the paper will review the fun side of wagering on horses from “simulcast” facilities at various tracks around the nation and the world.
The “PRO” – Facts about Thoroughbred Horseracing
The results of an ESPN study indicate that 35% of American adults surveyed in 2002 were “horseracing fans,” which is a 3.6% increase over the previous year. Polls conducted by ESPN show that horseracing, at the conclusion of 2002, moved ahead of the NHL and the WNBA in fan interest – that represents a jump from #14 to #11 in overall popularity of spectator sports in the U.S. (1-10 in popularity: NFL; MLB; college football; figure skating; NBA; extreme sports; college hoops; NASCAR; PGA; boxing.)
According to the National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA) (www.ntra.com),of the 209 million citizens in the United States who are 18 years of age or older, 84 million of those are “fans of thoroughbred racing.” Of those 84 million fans, 3.1 million “bet on horseracing at least a few times a month”; 19.7 million “have bet on horseracing at least once or twice a year”; 10 million of those “have bet on horseracing at least once or twice a year”; and, 5 million fans are “at least a little bit interested” in horse racing and attend at least once or twice annually.
Meanwhile, the fan base among 18- to 34-year-olds grew from 24.9% in 2001, to 27.3% in 2002; that reflects a jump of 9.6%, according to NTRA’s data.
Also according to the NTRA, it was a very good year in 2002-2003 for their championships, insofar as off-track thoroughbred betting – also called “pari-mutuel” betting, and “simulcasting.” In the 2003-2003 “Annual Report to the Membership,” a record $116 million pari-mutuel “handle” – the total amount of money bet on the Breeder’s Cup World Thoroughbred Championships, which is like the Super Bowl of horse racing – was wagered at 9,400 U.S. And international simulcast and racing facilities. That $116 million represents a single event.
Facts about OTB
Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie (Dallas, TX)
When the NTRA’s “live racing” season ends in Dallas, Texas, for example, in mid-July, that does not mean the end of the “wagering season” for a horse racing devotee: first, there will be harness racing in a couple months, which is not as popular as horse racing, but it’s live; and secondly, he or she can still make daily pilgrimages – 7 days a week, from 11 a.m. To 11 p.m. – out to Lone Star Park’s 36,000 square-feet Post Time Pavilion, featuring a Las-Vegas-style race book, to wager on any of the myriad races taking place elsewhere in the nation.
Pari-mutuel technology at the Pavilion beckons the wagering fan: the cost is $2 to get in the door (after paying $1 to park your car, or $5 for valet), and once inside, 318 small “betting carrels” (racebook-style seats) are available for $6 a day (featuring a TV monitor with a 9″ screen, connected to all pari-mutuel races in progress around the country; food and beverage service at your seat). Also, a seat at a dining table can be purchased for $6 – or, the fan can opt just to sit at any free available public chair; and standing room is no charge. There are huge television monitors high up on the walls – three 9′ X 12′ projection screens; eleven 6′ X 8′ projection video screens – and a total of 178 TV monitors.
Besides a full bar, the Post Time Pavilion features menu lunch and dinner entrees such as the following: jumbo gulf shrimp cocktail ($8.50); a two-burger basket with fries and onion rings ($5.25); chicken breast tenders ($6.25); cheese and bacon-filled potato skins ($6.25); hot wings ($5.95); beef or chicken nachos ($7.50); grilled chicken quesadillas ($7.25); deluxe Mexi-platter, with tacos, stuffed peppers, taquios, quesadillas ($13.95); soup of the day ($3.95); house salad ($3.95); Caesar salad ($6.25); cobb salad ($8.25); tuna salad deluxe ($8.95); turkey wrap sandwich ($7.95); steak sandwich ($10.25); Philly cheese steak hoagie ($7.95); BBQ chicken sandwich ($8.25); 1/2-pound lone star burger ($6.95); patty melt ($6.95); grilled ham and cheese ($5.95); soup and sandwich ($6.95); stir fry wok ($11.75); chicken fried steak dinner ($7.95); lone-star steak dinner ($15.95); teriyaki shrimp and prime rib satays ($13.95); pan roasted Atlantic salmon ($12.95); hot brownie sundae ($3.50); lemon meringue pie ($3.95).
For breakfast, the Post Time Pavilion offers a 3-egg omelet ($6.95); pancakes & eggs ($6.25); chicken fried steak & eggs ($7.95); a side order of biscuits & gravy is $2.25) and English muffins are $1.50, toasted.
From the bar: well liquors ($4.25); call liquors ($4.75); domestic bottled beer ($3.05); imported bottled beer ($4.00); and draft beer is $3.25 per glass.
There is no information readily available as to whether or not the Lone Star Park food service group is profitable, or how profitable they are; however, it is a sure “bet” that there is a substantial amount of money made on food and beverage, particularly during the weekends for OTB, and during the live racing thoroughbred season, as Lone Star Park is very busy, the parking lot (315 acres) is jammed, and many wagering Texans bring their families (there is a skateboard park for inline skaters, skateboarders; and there is a kids’ playground with sprawling lush grassy areas for safe play for youngsters).
Innovations in OTB – bringing wagering into the home computer
The very latest movement in technology related to sports wagering is on the Internet. In fact, one of the leading companies offering horseracing fans a chance to wager online is TVG (www.tvgnetwork.com).Owned by Gemstar-TV Guide International, Inc., TVG is currently available to horseracing fans in California, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Wyoming and Oregon. How does it work? Once signed up and logged on (using a secure PIN number), the user has access to “all the information they would have at the track, including real-time odds and changes and scratches… [plus] complimentary handicapping data (power ratings, trainer/jockey stats, etc.),” according to the www.tvgnetwork.com.And there are up to 8 live races per hour, interspersed with expert commentary, behind-the-scenes interviews and features with jockeys and trainers.
To fully enjoy the home-based benefits of an OTB system like TVG, a wagering horseracing fan needs: a) to be in one of the states mentioned above; b) to have a fast enough computer to load the pages quickly (DSL recommended, but 56K will work); c) to install a free RealOne Player; d) to have a firewall that will allow the streaming video into one’s computer; e) to have a working TV with cable or digital satellite in case one’s computer is not adequate to handle the interactive load; f) to have a credit card and be 21 years of age.
How much does this OTB service – wagering and live streaming video of the races one bets on – cost the home user? TVG requires a minimum initial deposit of $50, but there is no fee for opening an account, per se. Each wagering transaction (each time a bet is placed) costs twenty-five cents; and according to the TVG “frequently asked questions”: “regardless of the amount of the wagering, you never pay more than $19.95 per month (approximately 80 wagering transactions). Each month [that] you wager $2,500 or more, your user fees for that month are refunded…” And yes, there are trifectas, superfectas, quinellas, exactas, daily doubles, pick three and pick six and more – just like being in an OTB facility like Post Time Pavilion, only you’re at home. As to the speed of the confirmation of each transaction, the TVG site estimates “15 seconds” – and yes, wagers which result in winnings over $600 must be reported to the IRS; and yes, winnings can be quickly transferred to a personal checking account.
Bet Exchanges” offer OTB fans additional entertainment bet exchange is like the eBay of gambling” (Eng, 2003), according to an article in the Daily Racing Form. “The players bet among themselves and the owners of the bet exchange take a small commission only on winnings.” How does it work? There are 20 competitors in this emerging Internet gambling scheme, and basically, according to Eng’s article, “players can offer their own odds or point spreads on sporting events [not just horseracing], and if someone accepts the other side, a match is made.” The biggest and most visible bet exchange is Betfair, which has, Eng writes, “sophisticated computer servers that tabulate all the transactions and payoffs immediately.”
According to www.betfair.com, people can now use this site using German, Danish, Swedish and Italian. And one can offer – or accept others’ – odds during a sporting contest; this is a British innovation, and so naturally, there is a heavy emphasis on soccer, but horseracing fans anywhere can be challenged have fun. The unique idea with this concept is that betters are wagering against other bettors, and not traditional bookmakers. This company, according to the Daily Racing Form, “broke even within nine months. It now boasts more than 290 employees and 30,000 regular customers.”
The “CON” – The down side of OTB
The down side of off track betting of course is also the downside of all gambling: some folks become addicted, and get in too deep. According to the Minnesota Institute of Public Health’s “Gambling Problems Resource Center,” many young people, particularly college-age people, are prone to get involved in gambling. A survey conducted by MIPH, of 1,400 students (predominately white [95%]; 19-22 years of age [73%]; 48% men and 52% women; with 60% of those surveyed employed full or part-time), “gambling at some level was the norm among” those surveyed (Winters, 1998). Ninety-one percent of men, and 84% of women, reported having gambled “at least once during the prior 12 months.” Twelve percent of all students reported gambling either daily or weekly; thirty-seven of all those surveyed enjoyed “sports betting.”
Of those who had “gambling problems,” the typical “problem better” was a male, a daily or weekly user of alcohol or “illicit drugs,” with a “relatively high disposable income and whom had been raised by a parent with a gambling problem.”
Another research project looking into gambling was conducted by Dr. Durand F. Jacobs, Clinical Professor of Medicine at Loma Linda University Medical School in California (Jacobs, 2000). During the period 1984 to 1988, the study showed the median level of participation by “middle and high school age students, who had gambled during the previous 12-month period, was 45%.” But from 1989 to 1999, Dr. Jacobs found that the median level of participation for middle school and high school students had risen to 66% of those students. “Thus, a dominant trend has been an increase in juvenile gambling throughout North America between 1984 and 1999.”
For students whose parents have “serious gambling problems,” the percentage goes up to 75% who have “a problem with compulsive gambling.”
There is a Web site that offers help and advice – plus counselors, people in the gaming industry offering input and help – and it is www.infosource.cfcg.org.The site offers an awareness and prevention program, and links to local support groups. Also, www.responsiblegambling.orgis a site rich in resources for parents, teachers, counselors and others interested in helping those with gambling issues that are out of control.
Betfair. “What is Betfair and how does it work?” November 2003. http://www.betfair.com.
Eng, Richard. “Bet Exchanges big Business.” Daily Racing Form 17 November 2003. http://www.drf.com/news/article/51484.html.
Horton, Peter. “Still Gambling After All These Years.” Newslink: Problem Gambling
News & Information. March 2001. http://www.responsiblegambling.org.
Jacobs, Durand F. “Prevalence of Juvenile Gambling.” Loma Linda University Medical
Lone Star Park at Grand Prairie. “The Post Time Pavilion.” November 2003. http://www.lonestarpark.com/pavilion.asp.
National Thoroughbred Racing Association. “Events: Record pari-mutuel Handle of $116
Million at 9,400 U.S. And international simulcast and racing facilities.” http://www.ntra.com/news.
TVGnetwork.com. “Watch and Wager from Home: Frequently Asked Questions.” http://www.tvgnetwork.com/iefive/about/faq.asp.
Winters, Ken. “Gambling and College Students.” Gambling Problems Resource Center,
Minnesota Institute of Public Health.
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