DraftKings Announces Horse Betting Partnership with NYRA, Travers Sponsorship

DraftKings keeps lifting its belief in the “Sport of Kings.” The operator announced a deal Thursday with the New York Racing Association (NYRA) to become an official betting partner of the summer thoroughbred horse-racing meet at Saratoga Race Course.

The agreement includes DraftKings being the presenting sponsor of the $1.25 million Travers Stakes on August 24 and the $500,000 Acorn June 7 via its app, DK Horse.

The DraftKings and DK Horse brands will also be displayed throughout the Saratoga property beginning in June, with various on-site activations reminding fans of the DraftKings product menu.

Additional Details on the DraftKings-NYRA Deal

The DraftKings Travers Day program will include five prestigious Grade 1 events, with live national television coverage on FOX and the FOX Sports family of networks.

Besides its summer program, July 11-Sept. 2, Saratoga will host the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival, June 6-9, as Belmont Park is under construction. The four-day program includes the Belmont Stakes, the third jewel of racing’s Triple Crown, on June 8. 

The NYRA-DraftKings deal is a one-year agreement but could eventually morph into a multi-year package. It’s a significant showcase for one of the top horse betting apps.

“We are delighted to have a big presence at Saratoga Race Course,” Johnny Avello, the director of race and sportsbook operations for DraftKings, told Gaming Today.

“This is a huge deal. The Travers is considered the fourth Triple Crown race for three-year-olds. It’s the summer Kentucky Derby. Sponsoring these races and having a billboard presence throughout the meet is very important to us.

“I am from that part of the country (Poughkeepsie, about two hours away), and Chris Cipolla (the general manager of horse racing for DraftKings) is from that part of the country, too,” he added. “We know and appreciate what Saratoga’s summer meet means to the horse-racing community.”

That program contributes $371 million in economic activity and 2,900 jobs to the region, according to a press release from DraftKings. It’s a summer haven for New York City racing fans, who gravitate upstate.

New York is also the most lucrative market for DK Horse, the company’s standalone app available in 20 states. The app allows eligible customers access to pari-mutuel wagering on domestic and international racing. 

DraftKings has unfurled a unique approach to sponsorship. The company hasn’t merely presented a major race, which is customary. It adopted a track for a summer-long showcase.

And a famous track to boot.

Saratoga is one of the nation’s premier racing establishments and sports an elite summer program. It became the perfect partner for DraftKings’ new venture.

“We have been moving one step at a time with horse racing since I first came to DraftKings (in 2018),” Avello noted. “It was a matter of finding the right timing, partner, and maybe even the right technology. We are making moves now in the game.”

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The Evolution of Horse Racing with DraftKings

Avello liked putting up horse racing props, like Horse A vs Horse B, during his brick-and-mortar tenure in Las Vegas. But when DraftKings entered the legalized sports betting age, it could not offer horse racing in the same manner as other major sports. Too many approvals were needed from horsemen and regulators.

A breakthrough finally occurred last March with the launch of DK Horse. That enabled the company to reach its customers. The next step became sponsoring significant events.

This is an important maneuver, almost a pre-requisite for big market operators.

A book likes to show its customers that it’s a major league. FanDuel, for instance, has FanDuel TV, and it sponsors one of the Breeders’ Cup races in November.

DraftKings entered the big-race sponsor’s market last summer with the Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga. The book used that time to alert customers about DK Horse signups, which offer a nice incentive bonus.

Avello said that customers can get a matching deposit bonus of $250 with a low play-through of 2.5x. The app allows customers to bet on tracks worldwide, and watch live races and replays.

DraftKings followed the Jim Dandy with sponsorship of the $300,000 San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita in California in March. It was billed as the San Felipe Stakes presented by DK Horse. Avello was in the winner’s circle to present an award to the winning connections.

While DK Horse has held its own, DraftKings is rapidly approaching the point where horse racing can be integrated with its other sportsbook products. That will spike racing handle significantly.

“As a company, we want to continue a presence in the gaming arena,” Avello said.  “This adds that other vertical for us. We came on board last year with DK Horse just in time for the Kentucky Derby, but this year, we have had the added benefit of all those Derby prep races.

“The Kentucky Derby is going to be one of the biggest events of the year, and now we will also be part of the Belmont Festival and the Travers. We are in a nice position and looking forward to the impact horse racing makes for us this year.”

What Does This Sponsorship Mean?

Visibility and branding. Some of the most valued big-race advertising is subliminal, especially when a brand name is placed on the starting gate.

When horses are loading, television cameras fixate on the gate, putting a sponsor’s name into view of the public for perhaps a minute. The advertising extends to the call of the race, in which DK Horse is mentioned several times.

Against that backdrop, Saratoga awaits.


About the Author
Dave Bontempo

Dave Bontempo

Dave Bontempo is an award-winning writer and broadcaster, who has covered the sports industry since the 1970s. He won the Sam Taub Award for Excellence in Boxing Broadcasting by the Boxing Writers Association of America in 1997, and is in the New Jersey and Atlantic City Boxing Halls of Fame. Bontempo has broadcast major fights all over the world. The advent of legalized sports wagering shifted his focus to this exciting new industry in 2018.

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