DraftKings To Roll Out Horse Racing App Via Partnership With Churchill Downs Inc.

Here’s a potentially rich exacta box: the Sport of Kings and the sportsbook named Kings.

The aftermath of Tuesday’s breakthrough development — in which DraftKings announced its ability to take horse racing bets via DK Horse, a standalone app — interests the horse racing and sports gambling worlds.

Through DraftKings’ partnership with Churchill Downs Incorporated (CDI), the app is scheduled to be available prior to the May 6 Kentucky Derby. The synergy links DraftKings with a venue renowned as the site of many of horse racing’s most historic moments.

The agreement enables DraftKings to join FanDuel (via the former TVG) as a major content provider among sportsbooks for horse racing bettors.

DraftKings anticipates participation from 21 states, although that will be determined from permission granted one jurisdiction at a time.

DraftKings will initially require customers to sign up and deposit into a separate horse racing account. Future plans call for DK Horse to be integrated into the DraftKings product suite.

Horse Racing Will be ‘Immediately Profitable’, DraftKings CEO Robbins Says

According to the agreement, CDI will give DraftKings pari-mutuel wagering rights to horse racing content owned or controlled by CDI. That includes the Longines Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby. CDI will also secure, on behalf of DraftKings, additional horse racing content for use on DK Horse, according to a press release.

draftkings, horse racing, churchill downs, kentucky derby
DraftKings will soon offer parimutuel wagering on horse races like the Kentucky Derby, the 2022 version won here by Rich Strike (front right) with Sonny Leon aboard (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

This arrangement essentially runs the gamut of horse racing. Gamblers will be able to bet on horse races from tracks throughout the world, just as they would at a simulcast facility.

DraftKings CEO Jason Robbins said he expects the product to be immediately profitable.

The amount of that profit may be determined by what form this deal takes, but the possibilities are substantial.

Why DraftKings and Horse Racing are a Good Match

Johnny Avello, the director of race and sportsbook operations for DraftKings, told Gaming Today that this development was both an end and a beginning.

Avello won’t know exactly what the book can offer until the structure takes shape, but he indicated DraftKings had sought this breakthrough for at least four years.

“We have a lot of customers that cross over to different verticals, whether that’s sports betting to fantasy games or sportsbook into casinos,” Avello said. “For me, it’s a big deal. In all the brick-and-mortar locations I was at, the first word up on the sign is ‘race’, followed by ‘sportsbook’. This all goes hand in hand.

“You have to figure not only on having big days for the Triple Crown Races and the Breeders Cup, but you have Santa Anita opening the day after Christmas, you have a big winter meet at Gulfstream Park, and a great program at Churchill Downs,” he added. “There is Saratoga, DelMar, all these classic tracks.

“It’s been disappointing not to have big races when some of our competitors did,” he added. “This is something I’m very happy to see.”

Avello has been deeply ingrained in this sport for a long time. The Poughkeepsie, N.Y. native routinely attends racing cards at Saratoga and at DelMar in California. He has a pulse on all the major races, despite not booking them, and he attended the Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland in November.

In the gaming world, his affinity for horse racing entails several stages of taking action over the years. He initially booked horse racing bets at the Sands in Las Vegas and later become part of a parimutuel association that pooled betting markets throughout the country. That meant removing the booking risk and taking a small cut of the nationwide action.

In the post-PASPA age, his racing role via DraftKings has been confined primarily to prop-pool wagering on its site. The book has listed contests for major racing days like the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, Belmont Stakes, and Breeders’ Cup. The menu often involves matchups like Horse A vs Horse B or whether the winning post will be 1-10 or 11-20, or the exact order of finish.

These props have proven to be popular with players and may have primed the betting market pump beyond Tuesday’s announcement.

The inability to forge a horse racing presence before early 2023 could become a blessing in disguise for the book.

In recent years, DraftKings has expanded its reach by entering more states, offering an increased sports-betting menu, and obtaining the media network VSIN.

Bettors of all major sports see VSIN as a location for odds and betting splits. In the horse racing realm, it may also become the source for horse racing shows, handicapping, and promotion.

That’s all speculative, of course, but nonetheless intriguing to ponder.

For bettors who watched New Jersey usher in the era of fixed-odds betting in 2022, this is different. An entirely separate agreement would be needed for DraftKings to offer fixed odds, in which bets can be booked several days in advance, just like other sports.

In pari-mutuel wagering, odds are not official until post-time.

Avello indicated that many product rollouts will depend on permission from the tracks and regulatory bodies in each state.

But it’s easy to envision contests, horse racing wagers linked to other sports, and signup bonuses tied to a Triple Crown race. It’s also easy to anticipate promotions between DraftKings and Churchill Downs.

“We believe the depth and quality of our online offering through TwinSpires is unmatched in horse racing,” said Bill Carstanjen, CEO of CDI, said in the release. “We are excited to establish this relationship with DraftKings and to deliver a full end-to-end white label (advanced deposit wagering) solution that will introduce their significant base of sports betting customers to horse racing wagering.”

The gates have opened to horse racing at DraftKings. Time will tell if the financial floodgates follow.

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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