The rumor of horse racing’s demise is premature. Just ask Las Vegas race book directors, who collectively report that betting action on the Derby was "the best in recent years."
"We had an excellent crowd, between the party and both race books, which were operating at full capacity," said John Avello, race and sports director for Bally’s and Paris Las Vegas. "We had a tremendous amount of action, most of which occurred on the exotic bets (exacta, trifecta and superfecta), as well as head-to-head prop bets."
Avello said the handle ”” the total amount bet on the race ”” was "one of the best ever."
While Nevada regulators haven’t posted the results of Kentucky Derby betting in the casinos, Churchill Downs reported that this year’s pari-mutuel handle set an all-time record.
A total of $79,094,806 was wagered on the Derby nationally, an 11 percent increase over the previous record of $71,189,142, set last year. In the past, betting in Nevada race books has accounted for about 8-10 percent of the total pari-mutuel handle of a Triple Crown race, according to CIBC World Markets.
Without a clear cut "super horse," bettors were spreading bets around, Avello said.
"People like the exotic bets ”” they can go deep into the card and try to find a longshot," Avello said.
In addition to solid pari-mutuel betting action (of which, Nevada books receive between 14-17 percent of the take), future book action proved to be "tremendous" for those casinos that book their own futures (such as Bally’s).
"We opened War Emblem at 75-1 after he won the Illinois Derby (in April) and he was slowly bet down to 30-1," Avello said.
Avello added that War Emblem wasn’t even among the dozens of other future book horses that were posted last fall.
However, the Derby winner could come back to bite, as Bally’s and a few other race books posted him at odds of 150-1 (the longest shot in the proposition) to win the Triple Crown.
Unfazed, Avello said he has posted a proposition that War Emblem will or won’t win the Triple Crown: —1250 he won’t win it; and +950 he will win the Triple Crown.
Overall, most race books in town held virtually 100 percent of their future book action, a first in Nevada race and sports betting. One Las Vegas bookmaker said "We didn’t have a penny on War Emblem, even though he won the Illinois Derby four weeks ago. Our liability was nothing."
Locals casinos such as Palace Station reported equally strong Derby results. "It was a big win day for the books," said a race supervisor at Palace Station. "It was a lot busier than we expected and, while there were plenty of bettors, there were no huge bets placed."
The supervisor added that one player, a woman who had trouble trying to articulate a trifecta box bet to the teller, did indeed hit the $2 trifecta for an $18,373.20 payoff.
The Coast Casinos reported "standing room only crowds" in the race books as well as solid betting action.
"This was one of the biggest winning Derby days ever," a Coast supervisor said. He added that there were several bettors who cashed $1,300 exacta tickets but there were not many other winners.
At the Rampart casino in Summerlin, sports director Sid Diamond got several takers on his quiniella proposition ”” win a $20 quiniella and get a $100 bonus ”” but only a couple of players could hit the big Q.
Diamond added that players can find plenty of action every morning as the sports book conducts its daily baseball lottery. "We have an independent line, so anything can happen," he said.