My friend Chuck who I play the horses with at Red Rock Resort must be going nuts. So are Dennis, Pete, Bill, Larry and Nick, the other guys who are regulars in our row.
Like tens of thousands of Nevada residents who frequent the state’s 85 race books, Chuck has been unable to make a legal bet since March 17 as the coronavirus has brought business to a screeching halt. And by the looks of things, it may be a long time until he and the rest of us can go to the windows.
Nevada requires a third party to be licensed to do business in the Silver State. So TVG, Twin Spires, NYRA Bets, DRF.bets and other racing online betting sites are off limits.
Making matters worse, the race books in Nevada which do allow you to bet with a mobile device are currently shut down. No Station. No South Point. No William Hill. No Boyd Gaming among others. Throw in the fact that the number of tracks in North America which are still running you can count on less than 10 fingers, and it makes for a frustrating situation.
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And if you’re seeking relief from the state, forget it. The Gaming Control Board is not prepared to relax or change its regulations. It’s not going to allow casinos to reopen so people can create phone accounts. In Nevada, you have to physically show up at a race or sports book, produce ID and make a payment at the counter in order to activate a phone account. And since Gov. Steve Sisolak is not making any exceptions to his “Stay at Home Nevada” order, Nevada horseplayers are going to remain in the dark for the foreseeable future.
As of today, racing was still being staged at just three locations — Gulfstream Park in Florida, Oaklawn in Arkansas and Remington Park in Oklahoma. Tampa Bay Downs in Florida and Fonner Park in Nebraska have cards scheduled for later in the week. There’s also quarter horse racing at Los Alamitos in Southern California. All six tracks are closed to the general public and rely strictly on simulcasting to generate revenue and help pay for the purses.
The Nevada Pari-Mutuel Association, which represents the state’s race books, has deals with four of the thoroughbred tracks along with Los Alamitos. There is no deal with Fonner. Vinny Magliulo, who is the vice president of corporate relations for John Gaughan’s Las Vegas Dissemination Company which works with the tracks to provide the signal, said economics is the reason Nevada remains dark when it comes to being able to wager on horse racing.
“It became cost prohibitive once the Governor’s mandate to close the casinos was announced,” he said. “The handle wasn’t going to be worth staying open. There are staff considerations to consider. We couldn’t have one book assume all the risk.
“Yes, there are still a few tracks open — Gulfstream, Tampa and Oaklawn. But a lot of tracks are closed. Santa Anita’s closed. Aqueduct is closed. Keeneland never opened. You have little content. Put all those factors together and it becomes a matter of economics.”
As to why a TVG or Twin Spires couldn’t fill the void, it goes back to the late 1990s some tracks were offering rebates to Nevada bettors who dealt directly with them, thus costing the state’s race books millions of dollars in business. The state stepped in to protect the books and put in extremely stringent guidelines for those outside the state who wanted to do business in Nevada.
Virtually every company which offers online wagering on horse racing has bonuses or rebates. It would be a complicated process to rescind the legislation and would probably hurt the race books long-term.
“What this commission has always done is be the bridge between legislation and the industry,” said Dr. Tony Alamo, the chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission. “We’re the guard rail that protects the industry.
“I know a lot of horseplayers in Nevada are angry that they can’t bet. They’re looking for short-term solutions. But we have to think about the entire industry and the long-term impact.
“Everyone in the (casino) industry is hemorrhaging a lot of blood. It’s a waiting game right now. Nobody knows when the doors will re-open. We hope it’s sooner than later. But the sky will part, the sun will shine through and this will pass.”
Once things get back to normal, the commission might want to consider allowing Nevada race bettors who have mobile accounts to include sports accounts within the same wallet. Currently, you can have a phone account with the same casino for both race and sports, but the accounts have to be separate and you cannot move money from one account to the other.
“We have to look into that,” Alamo said. “There’s a lot of technological issues to deal with but that’s something we can address at some point.”
For now, what little racing is being offered is forcing Nevadans to be creative. Maybe you’ve got family and friends in a states that allow a TVG or a NYRA Bets account and perhaps you have convinced them to put you in action. You put money in their Pay Pal account, you text them your wagers and you’re good to go.
Perhaps a few of you are going old school, using an illegal bookmaker to get down. I would not advocate such a move but that’s your business.
Or maybe you just watch the races live, make mind bets and at worst, you lose your mind. Which given what we’re going through these days with self-quarantining, it’s likely that’s already happened.
But with racing being the lone legalized wagering activity in the U.S., Magliulo sees a great opportunity for the sport, Nevada notwithstanding.
“It’s an ideal time for the racing industry,” he said. “You’ve got an audience that is looking for something to watch and wager on. Horse racing has a chance to re-invigorate itself with sports fans and bettors.”
TVG is partnering with NBC Sports Network to co-mingle its signal so people who don’t have it can watch. Fox Sports is also producing a racing show. So the sport is getting exposure it might not normally receive.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t help Chuck and the others who frequent Nevada’s race books. They can only watch and wonder what it would have been like to cash that Pick-3 ticket at Gulfstream had they been allowed to connect the dots.